Paul Nicholls has trained some of the all-time greats of National Hunt horse racing. While his Ditcheat stables once contained equine legends like Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s, and Master Minded, he has found such sustained success more difficult to come by in recent years.
His remains one of Britain’s most powerful jumps yards, however, and Nicholls has received a real boost with several Irish racehorses moving to him over from the Emerald Isle this summer. Jared Sullivan, who lends his name to the Sullivan Bloodstock ownership, had Silviniaco Conti in training at Ditcheat but has now switched seven across the Irish Sea from the care of Willie Mullins.
It strengthens the hand Nicholls has in his bid to regain the British National Hunt Trainers’ Championship from long-time rival Nicky Henderson. The eye may be drawn to mares like Stormy Ireland and Laurina, even though the latter didn’t really take to steeplechasing last season, but some shrewd judges have already taken note of one arrival in particular.
Real Steel won two Grade 2 chases in open company last term proving his victory off top-weight in a Punchestown Festival handicap was no fluke. The campaign culminated in him finishing sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his first start in a staying chase, where he ran far better than that suggests.
The seven-year-old Loup Breton gelding made good headway coming down Cleeve Hill and put in his challenge at the second last. Real Steel disputed a close third at the final fence but saw his tank empty on the run to the line.
Just because he didn’t stay three-and-a-quarter miles doesn’t mean he wouldn’t last home over three miles on a less demanding track. While Real Steel is 33/1 in the ante-post 888sport horse racing betting for King George VI Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas, those are the best odds available.
He is half that price elsewhere, and the fact Nicholls always targets the race plays a part in that. Nobody has come close to matching the 11 wins achieved by this trainer in King George. Silviniaco Conti contributed two towards that total tally for the same connections.
Sullivan Bloodstock are not the only owners to move horses to Ditcheat from Ireland this summer either. Malcolm Denmark’s dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdler Next Destination also makes the switch to Nicholls from Mullins after beating subsequent Irish Gold Cup winner Delta Work on his last start.
Injury kept the eight-year-old son of Dubai Destination off the track last season, so he is on the comeback trail. It will be interesting to see how Nicholls campaigns Next Destination after his lengthy lay-off and whether he stays over hurdles or goes novice chasing.
There are quotes for both the National Hunt and RSA Chase races come the 2021 Cheltenham Festival for this gelding. That in itself suggests that, like the Sullivan Bloodstock contingent now representing Ditcheat, Next Destination is a horse that it could pay for punters to follow.