Last week I focused upon Nicky Henderson’s powerful Lambourn stable and this week I will focus upon the Paul Nicholls’ yard at Ditcheat in Somerset. Before discussing my 1st selection of 10 I would like to mention some of the improvements Paul has made for his 200plus string. To quote Paul, “ You only get out what you put in, so this summer we were busier than ever maintaining and upgrading our facilities. In order for the horses to be as fit and healthy as possible we need the gallops and other areas to be safe, consistent and well maintained. The Flat gallop (four and a half furlongs long for fine tuning of the horses with quick speed work) we built some 12 years ago underwent a full surface change and now consists of the market leading Geltrach. We also reshaped and re-drained each end to make the gallop 100% weatherproof. The Hill Gallop had a top up of three inches of Martin Collins’ Eco-Track and in order to keep both gallops in top condition we have taken delivery of a new harrowing device.
Paul has been training for 20 National Hunt seasons and has amassed 1941 winners in the UK, doing so at an average of 97 winners per season. He has managed a SR of 20% or more during 16 of those 20. His most successful season was 2002-03 when he had 152 winners from 583 runners. Paul is well on target to beat those figures at the time of writing this article. The season runs from 24th April 2011 to 21st April 2012. Thus far he has saddled 143 runners and recorded 42 winners at a SR of 29%. Last season Paul trained 10 Grade 1 winners, 3 garnered by Big Bucks and 3 by Master Minded. If those 2 horses don’t perform at the very top level does Paul have the ammunition to replace them? For the purposes of this piece I will leave those 2 horses out as all of their achievements have been thoroughly documented. The same premise applies as with the Henderson string, all of the selections start with a deficit of 18,000 pounds training fees from 1st July 2011 to mid May 2012.
I will begin with AITEEN THIRTYTHREE who is Hennessy bound. Paul feels strongly that the best is yet to come with this fellow, “ …….he was basically weak and immature last season and was plagued with sore shins, he is a lot stronger physically and mentally this time round. “ Already a winner at Newbury he will come on a lot for his seasonal debut in a small field Graduation Chase at Kempton on the last day of October. Raceform Interactive took the view that the performance was adequate enough but did not scream Hennessy winner. On the book he has to improve a good 12lb plus to be in the frame in the Newbury race. As he is running off an Official Mark of 152 one can see just how much he will need to improve to beat off those with lesser marks but with significant progression within their compass.
HINTERLAND is physically a most forward 3-y-0, already a fine specimen who will certainly jump a fence. The winner of the valuable Prix Wild Monarch at Auteuil, after which he was snapped up by the Nicholls buying team, he kicks off his season and career in this country in the Triumph Hurdle trial at the Paddy Power Meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday. Where he is likely to cross swords with the highly rated ex French filly Ozeta from the Henderson stable. Nicholls and Henderson will repeatedly go head to head this season in the race to the NH Trainers’ title and each and every such battle will be notated by those who have bet on either side. At the time of writing Nicholls is 272,247 pounds to the good.
Kauto Star’s half brother KAUTO STONE was impressive at Down Royal last weekend when taking the JB Nicholson Wines Chase, after which Paul declared that he will not over race this 5-y-0 this season. Time will see just how much this fellow contributes to the Nicholls pot over the coming 5 and a half months. Will he be called into action if his input will be necessary in the Spring of next year if the race to the title is fever hot? Whatever Paul does with this fellow he is a proper addition to the string. Neither his sire With The Flow nor that of Kauto Star, Village Star, have been particularly prolific and for that reason it is difficult to get a handle on just how far Kauto Stone will stay in his races.
It would be singularly incorrect of me to not include MICHEL LE BON in this list because he is potentially a high class individual who could go far in the game. We haven’t seen the horse in public since he won a Grade 2 novice chase at Newbury 2 years ago. Nicholls has gone on record about how highly he regards this fellow. Apparently with a view to running him in the Hennessy as his starting off point. A move which could be predicated by several modes of thought. One of which is this, given his history of leg troubles should the handler and owner press on with him at the top level while they can? Figuring that he may not last too many engagements, especially at the top level. I hope I am wrong and that the horse has the chance to prove his ability over several years to come.
Just how far will MON PARAIN go this year? Paul is very bullish indeed prior to his run in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup. Paul is quoted as saying that he would need his first run for the stable when making his UK
Debut at Sandown last March, the horse put those words to the sword with a fluent victory. His only subsequent outing was in the Topham Chase were, after jumping beautifully throughout, he emptied approaching ‘the elbow’ before the long run in. Paul has no explanation for the horse’s apparent throwing away of the race. I believe time will tell if something was amiss or whether his stamina or will to win gave out.
PACHA DU POLDER is definitely a young chaser to follow, especially after he beat Eradicate a head or so at Sandown last Saturday. Both those two novice chasers jumped well and both will go far in the winter game. And both might well end up in the Arkle. He may be very lightly raced, four runs to date, however he is a most forward going intelligent type.
No article of this nature would be credible and have legs if I was not to mention a dark horse or two. One that has been put up to me by my contact in the stable is POLISKY. I am stretching the truth a little in saying he is a dark horse as he has already shown good form over hurdles to date. However he has done tremendously well over the close season and is most definitely going places this season. Like a lot of sons of Poliglote he will stay well and many good prizes will be on offer for him. Beginning with the Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle to be run at Prestbury Park on Sunday where he will run into the likes of Fingal Bay and the prolific winner Grandads Horse. If he can master those two, and particularly the former, then he is going to be on target for one of the 2 staying novice events at the Cheltenham Festival next Spring.
The horse waiting to happen in terms of blossoming into one of the STABLE STARS is most definitely SILVINIACO CONTI who thrashed some ordinary opposition at Wincanton last weekend and now heads to the Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He became a talented hurdler when running over those obstacles, in what was meant to be a preparation ground for chasing. In finishing his season on an OR of 154 it is easy to see just how well he performed and just how good he could become over fences.
TONIC MELLYSSE strikes me as the type of horse who is handicapped well enough to win a good handicap hurdle for the team if he does not absolutely fire over fences. He is another ex French horse who hadn’t acclimatized last season and was definitely in need of a holiday. Whichever path he takes I am sure he will be paying his 18,000pounds training fees sooner rather than later.
Finally I come to number 10 selection. This is one of the Graham Wylie contingent which have joined Paul over the course of the close season. TIGRE D’ARON will start over hurdles at Cheltenham at the Paddy Power Meeting. Paul had tried to buy him originally but he ended up at Howard Johnson’s after Wylie himself bought him. Staying is most likely to be his game and fences a must in time. He is the sort of horse who could develop into a Sun Alliance Chaser providing the going isn’t too fast at the Festival. That race is won by tough and durable sloggers with a bit of class and that is the profile of this horse that my insider came up with when I pressed him on horses to follow for this article.