Paul Nicholls Pre-Cheltenham Media Day 2017

Horse Racing Tips

As many of you will have seen on Twitter we sent our man down as one of the select few journalists invited in to the Paul Nicholls pre-Cheltenham media day, a scrum of photographers and writers waiting on every word uttered by the Champion trainer looking for clues for Festival winners.

Despite the wealth of talent on show the days of the likes of Master Minded, Big Bucks, Kauto Star and Denman are now blasts from the past and unless something improves out of all recognition, the Championship races look beyond him in 2017. Although as generous with his time as always, I didn’t see the spark or enthusiasm of yesteryear in his demeanour I am sorry to say, and he seemed as if he will be delighted with a couple of winners despite a long list of multiple entries at the time of the visit (Tuesday morning).  Twelve horses were put on show and then discussed in depth, though the fact that Paul told us that they were not singled out suggests there are others unknown who could yet pull off a shock or two.

With time at a premium (yours, not mine), it seems sensible to focus on those he was most positive about starting with Gold Cup contender Saphir Du Rheu.  Anyone can copy verbatim what he said and you need to try to read between the lines and the feeling I got was that he feels the eight-year-old may be back next year with a better chance. Always well regarded he fell in the Hennessy but Paul said “Since that day he has jumped very very well. If he can get his act together he is a good horse. You never know, Saphir Du Rheu could pick up some crumbs in the Gold Cup and be placed now. He deserves to be in the race line up.” Not over the top in confidence but at least suggesting he will run a big race though ever Paul later described Native River as his pick for the most likely Gold Cup winner and for the moment I can leave him alone but could yet be pleasantly surprised.

Next on the list we have Dreamcatching who will run in the Fred Winter hurdle, and there were some encouraging comments for the ex-French four-year-old, who impressed with a win at Wincanton last time out. He ran way too freely at Kempton when pretty much tailed off but was described as …”(he was)…a different horse at Wincanton… bolting in, and could not have been more impressive.” A progressive sort we must note that the Fred Winter is a novices’ handicap and although that win will see him off a higher mark, he could yet be ahead of the handicapper making him a serious challenger, though the price may not represent much value any longer and the stable may yet have better value alternatives.

Next up we saw Politologue who was paraded in front of the photographers, and I did notice a bit more animation from the Champion trainer, and it does seem as if he likes him more than most, and fancies his chances in the JLT Novices Chase on the Thursday afternoon as an each way chance. He is seen as still improving apparently and “jumps very nicely” which is all important over these fences, though beating Yorkhill will not be easy in what looks to be one of the races of the meeting.

The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase ends the first day at Cheltenham and the Nicholls yard seem sure to be represented by Romain De Senam who was for me one of the surprise horses brought out to talk about. Paul’s body language suggested he likes him a lot ahead of his next race and by definition that means he must think he is well handicapped. Only a youngster at the age of five he is apparently crying out for two and a half miles and finds two miles too sharp for him (hence a poor run at Doncaster last time out) and could be one of the stable dark horses for success this season stepped up in trip if I read the trainers attitude toward him as well as I hope.

Two more to mention and two of those have serious chances with Movewiththetimes an each way shout for the ever-competitive Supreme Novices Hurdle. Paul suggested the six-year-old will be better suited by the going at Cheltenham (assuming good to soft as expected) and after a half length second to Ballyandy in the Betfair Hurdle last time out, his chances are there for all to see. Back in novice company for either this race or the Neptune on the Wednesday he ought to be a bit more at home in this company and at a price he seems to have a decent enough chance to bring home some of the prize money this season.

Apparently, Zarkandar has had a minor operation on his palate hence the improved performance last time out when winning over a furlong short of three miles at Haydock recently. That was his best run for a while but he remains in good form at home apparently and will head for the Stayers’ Hurdle with a solid chance of a place at least, though his chances were glossed over fairly rapidly, making me wonder just how strongly fancied he really is.

Lastly, I would say that the current Champion trainer feels Coillte Lass may well be his best chance of success all week. She is most likely to head to the Mares’ Novice Hurdle on Thursday where the return to that standard of opposition could well see success. Last time out she took on Vroum Vroum Mag at Doncaster and ran well enough in third, and as the winner is currently entered in six races at the Festival including the Champion Hurdle, the Gold Cup, and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, that form looks rock solid in novice company again.

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