Paul Nicholls: My Festival team

  • Last Updated: February 20 2013, 17:11 GMT

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls talks us through his team for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Nicholls talks the media through his plans for Cheltenham
Paul Nicholls talks the media through his plans for Cheltenham

Silviniaco Conti
He's obviously done incredibly well this year. We left plenty to work on before his first run in the Charlie Hall [at Wetherby] and I was nervous he was going to get a bit tired, so when he won like that I was hopeful for the rest of the season. We had thought he was a good-ground horse as he won so impressively on it Aintree last season. So I was slightly nervous before Haydock and Newbury about the ground but he's coped with it really well and you'd have to say it's not such a concern now.

It wasn't the plan to make all at Haydock. We thought Long Run was going to make it, but Ruby went to the front and he bowled along and enjoyed himself. The Gold Cup looks a very interesting race this year but I think the three second-season chasers - Bobs Worth, Sir Des Champs and Conti - might just be the three.

He's workmanlike, he's not flashy, but he does get the job done. We're not going there thinking we are going to win, but we are going there thinking that we have got a chance of winning and obviously other people do too. I keep reading he can't win at Cheltenham because he's not won at Cheltenham before but there's never been a chase there when we wanted to go and he ran a big race over hurdles there. He's been around loads of different tracks without a problem and that is not a fear.


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Zarkandar
He's just in a totally different place to where he was last season. Last year we rushed him to get to the Betfair Hurdle, then he coughed afterwards and he was nowhere near himself when he ran in the Champion Hurdle. This season he is three from three and he just keeps on winning.

He's small, he's tough, he's the right age, and he's done nothing wrong this season. He's never going to be flashy but he galloped all the way up the hill last time. I actually don't think there's a lot between this lad, Rock On Ruby and Grandouet. All I know is that he is in a great place at the moment.

The slight concern I have got is that his last win was on the New Course and this race is on the Old Course, which is almost a furlong less and much sharper, so I'd like to see plenty of cut in the ground. Don't look at the fact that Ruby has deserted him - he was always going to ride Hurricane Fly. To me it makes absolutely no difference as to who will ride him. He and Daryl [Jacob] are both great lads and both great jockeys.


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Sanctuaire
He hasn't had the best of seasons. He's in the Champion Chase but basically, we're playing for a place really. If the ground's going to dry up, he can definitely run into a place. He'll go to Sandown afterwards and that will be his Gold Cup.

Unioniste
He has had a really good season for us. I thought he had a nice handicap mark before the Paddy Power and he stayed on strongly and jumped well to win. I gave him the rest of the winter off then he came back at Newbury. He jumps really well and keeps on improving. When he won last time at Newbury, he Idled a lot all the way up the straight and eventually only won by a short-head. He's improved enormously for that run and I think he'll go well at Cheltenham.

They will go a true gallop and he hasn't got to go from the front, as hopefully something else will take them along. If it came up bottomless we could switch and go for the Jewson and move Rocky Creek into the RSA, but that's not the plan at the moment. I'm sure he'll go well.


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Ptit Zig
He's by a sire I like, Great Pretender - the other one we have by him is Mr Mole and I think that one has got a future. He'd had three runs at Auteuil and shown ordinary enough form when we bought him just before Christmas thinking he could be one we could possibly run in the Fred Winter. He was quite green on his first run for us but showed plenty of promise to beat a good horse of John Ferguson's (New Year's Eve) and I will be interested to see how that one gets on at Doncaster today.

He's gone up 4lb to 130 after that first run which is okay - it's a nice mark to be running off in a race like that. Like any of those handicaps at the Festival it's going to be competitive, but we're hopeful he can put up a good show. He would want plenty of cut, he wouldn't want it to quicken up. He's got a definite chance if there is cut in the ground.

Fago
He's in the Jewson and the Arkle, but I am definitely leaning towards the Arkle. We bought him just before Christmas having shown some form around Auteuil. He had been running over further but we thought he was more of a two-mile type. He won nicely at Newbury first time and was hard on the bridle when he fell two out in the Kingmaker at Warwick. That was the last thing we wanted to happen before the Festival and he runs at Sandown on Friday as I want to get some more experience into him. The race might just be run to suit him in the Arkle. He's a really decent horse. Whatever happens, when he's had a summer with us and we can start from scratch again in the autumn and he has strengthened up, he is going to be a really good horse.

Dodging Bullets
I think he is one of the forgotten horses. I was a little bit ambitious running him in the Christmas Hurdle, but he ran third to Darlan, finishing in front of Countrywide Flame and that's top class form. He definitely compares very favourably to Al Ferof and Nolan, who were previous winners of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle for us. He'll be much better if he can get a really fast-run race and come from behind. I think he'll run a really big race.


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Celestial Halo
I hope he will run in the World Hurdle. I have always wanted to run him in the race. He came back from a year off when he was third in the Kingwell and I was pleased with that - the extra distance is only going to help him.

Wonderful Charm
We've only seen him once in this country, when he won the Persian War Novices' Hurdle in October. He had a little bit of an issue with his breathing before that race and Ruby said afterwards that It was still a problem. So straight afterwards we got his breathing sorted out and had a little bit of an operation. He's on a mark of 149 at the moment - I don't know if that's good, bad or indifferent.

In a normal world he'd have had a couple of runs by now and we'd probably be going down the World Hurdle route. At the moment the favourite is to go for the Coral Cup but I want to have a look at the weights and see where we are. I'd be hopeful that we'll be a few pounds below top-weight [in the Coral Cup] and at the moment that's where we're going.

Far West
He is vying for favouritism in the Triumph Hurdle and I think he's got a very good chance. He won a very tactical affair at Ascot last time - it was fantastic to see that as well as staying and jumping, he's got a fantastic turn of foot. Ruby was thrilled. He was really impressive and sprinted away. We'd thought that as a point-to-point winner, River Maigue was going to make it, but [Barry] Geraghty was determined to follow us so we had to go from the front. He's been working with Zarkandar and has improved all through the winter.

He's got everything - he's got speed, he jumps, and I'm really looking forward to the Triumph. We might also run Irish Saint depending upon how he gets on at the weekend but this one is definitely top of the pile. We bought him as a chaser but I'd say we'll end up staying over hurdles next season and he could be really interesting.


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Ulck De Lin
For a change this year we've got a few in with a chance in the handicaps. He probably needed the run at Stratford and then won nicely at Ascot. We purposefully decided not to run him again afterwards in order to keep him for the Grand Annual. I wouldn't want the ground to dry up too much as he likes a bit of cut, but he'd definitely be one of ours in with a leading chance in the race. I see he is favourite for the race at the moment but that could well change when the weights come out.

  • Silviniaco Conti paraded to watching members of the press
  • Zarkandar (left) and Silviniaco Conti with their trainer
  • Champion Hurdle hope Zarkandar
  • Paul Nicholls and his two stars face the camera
  • Silviniaco Conti looking in prime condition
  • Paul Nicholls answers questions from members of the press
  • Paul Nicholls looking out across his Ditcheat yard
All the best pictures from Paul Nicholls' media day at Ditcheat as he prepares his team for the Cheltenham Festival.

Sam Winner
He runs in the Pertemps Final. As a juvenile he won races in the autumn and was then fourth to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle, flying at the death. After he fell at Cheltenham early last season he got a problem and had to have rest of the season off. He was really only half-ready, as I had to be careful with his knee injury, when he made his reappearance at Sandown but he stayed on nicely and showed us that the ability was still there.

Thanks to the BHA, I was able to run him in one of the jumpers' bumpers since then, which kept up his fitness and kept him galloping. He will go chasing again one day but I don't think we've seen the best of him yet over hurdles and a trip like three miles will bring out the best in him.

Best of the rest

Easter Day won't go to the Festival as he's not ready. He's a big baby really and might run at Aintree. Irish Saint and Lac Fontana run at the weekend and both could still go for the Triumph but I'm just favouring Aintree. Irish Saint is more of a chasing type and that will be his game. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Lac Fontana didn't win this season, as he could be a really nice horse for novice hurdles next season. There's no great plot with Mr Mole. He's still very green and I don't think he's ready for something like the County Hurdle. I'll take Wonderful Charm for a racecourse gallop in the next few days and I might take Fascino Rustico too. He's had an operation for his wind since he was fourth at Cheltenham and might go for the Champion Bumper but I want to see where we are with him.

Tricky Trickster is at the other end of the age spectrum but will run in the Foxhunters. I thought it was an overreaction when he went out from 6/1 to 20s for the race after finishing second the other day.


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