Think big at The Open

  • By: Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: November 14 2012, 16:00 GMT

The National Hunt season has been underway since April 29 but for many it is only as The Open at Cheltenham approaches that the campaign really gets into full swing.

Paul Nicholls: Strong record of success at The Open

That is, of course, more than a little unfair on the likes of Down Royal and Wetherby and Ascot with the Champion Chase and Charlie Hall among those contests to have already been run but they were sharing the limelight with the Flat turf season.

There is often talk of the winter game being open to the smaller fish with the marvellous run of Hunt Ball, Anthony Knott and Keiran Burke a shining example whereas the racing on the level is dominated by two or three powerhouses.

However, while there may be a chink of light for the smaller operations it is no more than that and the recent weekends have already served us with a couple of notable reminders lest we had forgotten.

Paul Nicholls completed a big race four-timer on Charlie Hall day with Nicky Henderson matching him winner for winner on the same day while David Pipe and Alan King have already landed big Saturday pots courtesy of The Package and Raya Star.

Power, as ever, is in the hands of the few.

Amid all the excitement of the three days of the meeting at Prestbury Park it will prove well worth bearing that in mind and results from the last five years back that up.

Paul Nicholls has sent out no fewer than 14 winners - including six last season - from 89 races which means the champion trainer has accounted for almost 16% of the races.

He has trained twice as many winners as Nicky Henderson who sits in third place behind Nigel Twiston-Davies who has saddled eight winners, including two Paddy Power Gold Cups.

The names of Jonjo O'Neill, Alan King and Philip Hobbs can regularly be found on the roll of honour and it makes you wonder why punters look anywhere else.

David Pipe may not have the firepower at his disposal that his father enjoyed in his heyday but that hasn't prevented him from hitting the target on a regular basis with last season's tally of four taking his total winners for the meeting in the period to seven.

One horse has contributed two of those successes and Grands Crus is a strong favourite for the feature race of the three days as he attempts to complete a notable hat-trick having burst onto the scene with a barnstorming victory in the intermediate handicap hurdle back in 2010.

We won't, however, get rich by backing Grands Crus or by supporting every runner sent up to the Cotswolds from Ditcheat over the weekend so the question remains of how best to respond.

As Ogden Nash wrote 'only the gamefish swims upstream, but the sensible fish swims down' and the odds are stacked against those swimming against the tide.

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