Nicholls hope has Grand chance
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt previews the pick of Saturday's action at Cheltenham.
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Former champion trainer Paul Nicholls had an unforgettable Saturday last week with five winners and could grab further big race glory seven days on with GRANDIOSO in the Stewart Family Thank You (December) Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
In a fiendishly difficult contest to solve, I am pinning my hopes on the lightly raced selection showing some improvement for his reappearance third behind Cantlow and Easter Meteor at Newbury, his first outing since February.
Grandioso is weighted to get much closer to the front two here, though a line through the runner up suggests that the Newbury form and the leading horses home in the Paddy Power Gold Cup here last month (in which John's Spirit beat Colour Squadron with Attaglance fourth, Tap Night eighth and Easter Meteor a faller when still leading two out) are all very closely handicapped.
- 1pt win Shooters Wood at best morning price in 1.15 Cheltenham - C&D winner who gets a big pull at the weights with his main rivals
- 2pt win Grandioso at 7/1 (StanJames, Coral) in 2.25 Cheltenham - lightly raced, open to improvement and his trainer is confident of a big run
- 1pt e-w Sew On Target at 16/1 (general) in 2.25 Cheltenham - has twice run well this season and has a handy swing in the weights in his favour
So it's very much a case of which horse can find a little more improvement and, on only his sixth start over fences, Daryl Jacob's mount seems more entitled than most to take a step forward. Earlier in the week, Nicholls was particularly bullish about his chances.
What would have happened if Easter Meteor had stood up in the Paddy Power is difficult to say while Colour Squadron may well have won but for being hampered. On the other hand, dual course winner John's Spirit had travelled strongly all the way round.
It looks significant that A P McCoy has chosen to ride Colour Squadron in preference to the other J P McManus-owned runners Cantlow and Tap Night but the champion jockey will need to get this accident prone jumper in a good rhythm.
Should there be a surprise then the lowly weighted Sew On Target could be the one to provide it after two good runs here this season, most recently when chasing home Anay Turge having earlier been readily beaten into third behind Johns Spirit (now 15lb worse off).
The big weight deficit from the Paddy Power Gold Cup winner could well bring Colin Tizzard's charge into contention.
Later on, the StanJames.com International looks a head-to-head between last year's winner Zarkandar and The New One who were separated by just half a length in a thrilling finish to the Aintree Hurdle (2m4f) in April.
It looks certain to be close again; both horses seem equally effective at shorter distances and both should be spot on fitness wise after solid reappearances: The New One handed out a thrashing to former champion Rock On Ruby at Kempton and Zarkandar may have had a stiff task trying to concede 11lb to the classy mare Annie Power at Ascot.
With so little between them, value hunters will favour Zarkandar at the current odds.
Meanwhile, in the Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase, it could again be worth following the Nicholls team with three-times course and distance winner Shooters Wood making his reappearance.
The nine-year-old was a big improver last season but then had an impossible task at the weights when finishing last of six behind Wishfull Thinking in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February and now gets a 15lb and 8lb pull respectively with runner-up French Opera and fourth-placed Tanks For That.
Moreover, Shooters Wood was possibly going over the top at the time (and failed to produce his best in two subsequent starts) having been on the go since the summer. We may see a much better and fresher horse here on a course he loves.