Kempton workout likely for Conti
Paul Nicholls could give his main Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Silviniaco Conti a serious final tune-up back at an old haunt over the next fortnight.
Paul Nicholls Specials National Hunt Specials: Irving (Supreme) & Silviniaco Conti (Gold Cup) Both To Win 14/1
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A faller three fences from home in last year's renewal, the chestnut has taken his game to another level this season as he reversed the placings from November's Betfair Chase by catching Cue Card to hand his trainer an eighth King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
"We did it differently this year," said Nicholls.
"Last year we wanted to win the Betfair Chase so we ran in the Charlie Hall, and this year we wanted to win the King George so we started off in the Betfair.
"He was way fitter at Kempton and he'll have a racecourse gallop in 10 days. I haven't sorted out where, and if it (weather) goes on like this he could end up at Kempton on the all-weather - I'll be talking to (clerk of the course) Barney Clifford about it anyway."
Silviniaco Conti has no other experience at Cheltenham over fences, but the trainer is not unduly concerned.
"I watched the Gold Cup again the other day," hs said. "He was travelling really well and I suspect he would have finished first or second (if not for falling) but who knows?
"I didn't want to run him in the Argento on this ground but he'll do a lot of schooling and I think he's got a really good chance.
"They are all good horses in the Gold Cup. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and he's probably the one we've all got to beat."
In support will be Rocky Creek, who returned from a minor hiccup after his second place in the Hennessy to fill the same position behind The Giant Bolster in last month's Argento Chase around Prestbury Park.
Nicholls said: "I suspect he will end up in the Gold Cup as he would have a lot of weight to carry in the National. I don't think I had him as fit as could be for the Argento and he just blew up.
"He's going to have a racecourse gallop just to get his fitness up. I'm not saying he'll win but he could run into a place."
Al Ferof will "almost certainly" end up in the Ryanair Chase after his tired second to Harry Topper at Newbury tipped connections against the Gold Cup.
Wonderful Charm (JLT Novices' Chase) and Sam Winner (RSA) were others paraded while Nicholls struggles to split his Arkle hopes Hinterland and Dodging Bullets.
Ptit Zig could yet take his chance in the Stan James Champion Hurdle if the ground remains heavy while Irving's coat is starting to shine and he could warm up for the Sky Bet Supreme with an outing in the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at Kempton.
Of others Nicholls outlined for the next few weeks, he said: "Lac Fontana will have a few options and could go for the County Hurdle but it would be tough for Irish Saint in handicaps up another 7lb and I might mind him for chasing.
"Just A Par might go for the four-miler and I've still got Black Thunder in the RSA and four-miler."