Paul Nicholls: My Festival Team

  • Last Updated: February 13 2014, 21:21 GMT

Paul Nicholls talks us through each of his major Cheltenham Festival hopes including the latest news on Big Buck's.

Paul Nicholls: My Festival Team

Al Ferof

We scratched him at the forfeit stage for the Gold Cup on Tuesday and it's fairly obvious he doesn't stay, particularly on that ground. He's never really struck me as a stayer and his class got him home in the King George and on Saturday when he travelled extremely well. He's in the Ryanair and he's in the Champion Chase. I'm almost certain he'll run in the Ryanair as two miles and five suits him brilliantly if the ground is decent. The Champion Chase is an option if the ground is testing and he doesn't lack pace. If he [Sprinter Sacre] didn't run and the ground was bad it could be an option. But the obvious race is the Ryanair and he does need nice ground. He did win the Paddy Power Gold Cup in soft, heavy ground but he was probably well handicapped that day. The New Course, two miles and five is perfect for him. For a Dom Alco he's got lots of speed and he takes plenty of getting fit this horse, he's come out of Saturday's race well and I'm very happy with him. We've been trying to ride him as a stayer and he's probably not.

Big Buck's

Our four-time World Hurdle winner whose 18-run winning streak was ended the other day, but to fair to him he ran a good race in the Cleeve. He came in late and we did all we could to get him ready first time out. But with a horse like him it could take a couple of runs to get back to his best. When they've had leg trouble you don't do as much graft as you can and he was always going to need the run a little bit. There was a bit of criticism of Sam Twiston-Davies but he rode him exactly how I wanted him to and I was just smiling to myself at some of the comments like 'he should've held on to him longer and ridden him differently'. This horse wins because he's a stayer. He wins races staying on strongly from the back of the last and all he did wrong at Cheltenham was get tired on ground that he doesn't like. I reckon he's lost about 10 kilos since then and he's tightened up. Now, he looks absolutely fantastic. He just looked big and well at Cheltenham and I think he ran as good a race first time out as he has on any of the last five seasons. If you think that in previous years he'd been to Newbury and had a soft race, beating either Five Dream or Reve De Sivola ,and we were able to build his fitness up quietly with a quiet run at Ascot and then into the spring. He had a tough task the other day, had a week off after Cheltenham and he's really bloomed the last 10 days. I wouldn't want to see the ground as heavy as it is everywhere at the moment as if you look at his record all those Grade Ones came on good or good to soft, so we're just hoping for some better ground. Annie Power aside, what are the dangers? She's got to stay, she's got loads of pace and you need to be a really good stayer to win the World Hurdle. She looks to have plenty of pace to me. But with the 7lb allowance if she runs in the World Hurdle she's obviously going to be a potent force.

Calipto

A really nice juvenile who won at Newbury on Saturday. It was an all-age hurdle and he did well to carry a 10lb penalty against older horses. He travels well, jumped brilliantly and won nicely. He's got loads of speed and the handicapper after Saturday gave him a mark of 149 which is extremely high for a juvenile and he's joint-highest-rated with Nick Williams' Le Rocher. I minded him a little bit after his first run and Saturday was one of the last opportunities I had to run him before Cheltenham. The only downside with the Triumph is it can be won by horses who have run on the Flat and they do have that experience, but if the ground stays as it is now that will be a benefit to him. If it was 'good' it might be a disadvantage but we'll see what we get and he'll go straight to the Triumph now.

Celestial Halo

Everyone knows Halo, he's 10 years old now and won a Triumph, was second in last year's World Hurdle the first time we tried him over three and won over that distance first time out this season when beating At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola at Newbury. He was going to run in the Long Walk but got an infection in his front foot, but he's well over that now. I just think he needs a run before the World Hurdle and he'll run at Haydock over three this weekend. Whatever he does on Saturday he'll improve for the run. He needs a tough race on Saturday to get him back to his very best for the World Hurdle.

Dodging Bullets

He has a leading chance in the Arkle. He won three from three in the Autumn, I then gave him a little break and wanted to get a run into him, and there's little for a novice chaser like him to run in at this time of year so we went for the Game Spirit. He gave weight to Module and got beat a neck. He travelled well, jumped well and looked like winning, but had a blow halfway up the run-in and then stayed on again. There's plenty of improvement to come and the faster they go the better it will suit him. He jumps nicely and stays on strongly. Considering he had a hard race at the weekend I'm very pleased with the way he looks and he's really forward in his coat. He'll have a quiet couple of weeks before we tune him up and he's one of the best two-mile novice chasers around. He's a cracking horse. He's genuine, tough and would run himself into the ground. He'd give you everything. He ran two terrible races after Christmas last season andI couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. We tweaked his breathing and I don't think he was right for whatever reason.

Hinterland

He's likely to go for the Arkle and he's one I've minded a little bit with the heavy ground we've had over the winter. He won his two starts at Sandown in the autumn, he's obviously a second-season novice so his jumping's good, and he likes better ground. He'll have a racecourse gallop in the next 10 days and he's still got an entry in the Champion Chase. I just thought with him being a second-season novice, if the race cut up and it dried up a bit it would be nice to have the option, so that was the thinking behind his entry. Again, he looks great in his coat, he's got loads of speed and he was struggling with his breathing last year. He bled after an all-weather bumper last January so he had a breathing operation and that's turned him around a little bit. He could go to Cheltenham, Aintree and possibly Sandown. I don't think there's much between him and Dodging Bullets, they're two really good two-mile chasers.

Irish Saint

He probably won't go to the Festival. He'll have to carry 7lb more than he did on Saturday so he could be handicapped out of it.

Irving

Irving is one of the favourites for the Supreme Novices' and his form was boosted by Splash Of Ginge in the Betfair Hurdle. We bought him in the summer having won four from six on the Flat in Germany and he's now won three from three over hurdles. He started off at Taunton, won nicely, and then he won at Ascot and a listed race the next day. We just minded him a little bit as we were going to run him in the Tolworth and then the Betfair, but with the ground as it is we decided not to run him as we want to go to Cheltenham with him and then possibly Aintree. I'm thrilled with the way he looks, physically he's doing well and he's just starting to come in his coat which is what you want to see at this time of year. He could run in the Dovecote next week but I wouldn't run him if it was heavy. I want to get a run, or a racecourse gallop, into him before Cheltenham. I'd love to run him in the Dovecote and get more experience into him over hurdles. He's progressed, got loads of speed, jumps nicely and hopefully we haven't seen the best of him yet. He could be an interesting horse for the rest of this season and going into next season.

Lac Fontana

He's in the County Hurdle and plenty of other races at the Festival too and he'll run in one of them. We'll take a look at the races before deciding which route he takes.

Mr Mole

He'll have an entry in the Grand Annual and he could run in the race, but we'll see when the weights come out and there are no firm plans for him.

Ptit Zig

There's only 11 left in the Champion Hurdle and if the ground remains soft he could run well in the race. He could go there, I've nothing else for the race and he's the sort who could run into a place if it cuts up. He gave 4lb to Melodic Rendezvous when he got beat and there's nowhere else he could go. That would be it for him before he goes chasing.

Rocky Creek

He's still got an entry in the Grand National but he'll be going for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. I still think he needs a bit more experience to run at Aintree and he's not exactly thrown in with 11 stone 5lb. He ran a cracking race in the Hennessy when still upsides the winner jumping the last and he had a setback after that with a little bit of colic. I think we rushed him a bit when running him in the Argento and he got a bit tired from the back of the last. I don't think I've had him as fit as he should be yet due to plenty of circumstances and he's a horse that needs plenty of work and he'll have a racecourse gallop somewhere before Cheltenham. I think he could run a big race in the Gold Cup. He beat Harry Topper at Cheltenham and that horse has shortened up but he's still 40/1. He wants good ground and he's capable of running a big race, he's a decent staying chaser and I don't think we've seen the best of him yet.

Sam Winner

Sam Winner ran on Saturday when second giving 3lb to Smad Place and he wasn't beaten far. Smad Place is now 8/1 for the RSA and he's 16/1 so I'm thinking he's quite a good price. He won at Cheltenham earlier in the season and likes better ground, he's a big, stuffy horse who needed a run and I was surprised he ran as well as he did on the ground at Newbury. He got a little bit outpaced from the back at the last, but again, I've left plenty to work on and I want him at his very best for Cheltenham in a month's time. He has an entry in the four-miler too, but the way he performed on Saturday to a mark in the high 140's means he's almost certain to run in the RSA. If they go a good gallop that will suit him, he likes Cheltenham, prefers going left handed and I think it's quite an open RSA. Ballycasey could be the one to beat, but Smad Place and him and one or two others have chances and he jumps and stays well.

Saphir Du Rheu

The trouble with Aintree is Saphir Du Rheu needs soft ground. We'll keep him going as if he is to run in the World Hurdle as he is a great sub to have, but we could look to France with him. He's only five and his future lies over fences.

Silviniaco Conti

Obviously he's one of the favourites for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and he won our eighth King George at Kempton on Boxing Day which was great for the yard. I watched last year's Gold Cup again the other night and he was travelling extremely well when he fell. Who is to know where he would've finished that day? I suspect he would've been first or second but who knows, he still had two more to jump. I think he stays, he showed that at Kempton and we've done things a bit differently with him this year. Last year he went to the Charlie Hall and our aim was to win the Betfair Chase with him, which he did, this year we wanted to win the King George so we went to the Betfair first time up where he needed the run. He looked like the winning going to the second last but he got tired and improved enormously for that run. I said to Noel at Kempton, don't let Cue Card get a soft lead as all he'll do is stay and gallop which he did. I wasn't surprised he improved from Haydock to Kempton as quite simply, he was way fitter. He'll have a racecourse gallop in the next ten days, perhaps at Kempton on the all weather. I'd like to get a gallop into him. He's at the right age now, he's strengthened up, he's normally a very good jumper and he's got a leading chance. They're all dangers if they're good enough to run in a Gold Cup. You'd say Bobs Worth has a leading chance, but you could say his form wasn't boosted by First Lieutenant the other day when Tidal Bay finished in front of him, but he likes Cheltenham, so he's probably the one we've got to beat.

Unioniste

I don't know whether he'll go to Cheltenham or not. He is still in the Gold Cup but he strikes me as more of a Grand National horse for next season.

Wonderful Charm

Wonderful Charm is favourite for the two mile four JLT Novices' Chase on the Thursday. He's just had a bit of puss in his foot over the last few days and it's one of those trainers nightmares, I wanted to do a bit with him this morning and he decided it was a bit sore. The idea with this lad after he did really well in the spring was to gain experience over fences and he did that before Christmas, his last run getting beat a neck by Oscar Whisky giving him 8lb which was an excellent run. He won at Wincanton and Newbury and the key to this horse is good ground, I'd love to see it drying up and hopefully the New Course on the Thursday will suit him. He doesn't want it really soft, which is why we campaigned him in the autumn and now in the spring again. He'll go to Cheltenham, Aintree and maybe even Sandown. He jumps well, goes well fresh and I just hope the ground isn't too soft.

Zarkandar

He's just come to himself and he's going to run at Wincanton on Saturday in the Axeminster Hurdle against Melodic Rendezvous. He won there twice last year. He's going to run in the World Hurdle, it's fairly obvious he's not going to win a Champion Hurdle now, he's had a couple of goes at it and Saturday's race at Wincanton will be a test of stamina in the ground. It should put him right for the World Hurdle and I'd like to see better ground for him over three miles. He always comes right in the spring and there's lots of fun to be had with him - he could go to Aintree, Punchestown and perhaps France. He's been second to the mare Annie Power twice this season as well as The New One and one could remain unbeaten and one could win the Champion Hurdle. He's bred to stay and I'm looking forward to seeing him run in the World Hurdle. If he doesn't stay in the World Hurdle we'll go back to the two and a half mile hurdle he won at Aintree last year.


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