Bullets 'deserves to be favourite'

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Paul Nicholls believes Dodging Bullets "deserves to be favourite" for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The seven-year-old beat Somersby in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December before lowering the colours of the mighty Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot last month.

Despite that he is second-favourite for the two-mile championship behind Sprinter Sacre, who was having his first run since being pulled up at Kempton in December 2013 with a well-documented heart problem.

Nicholls can also call on Mr Mole, the horse that led Tony McCoy to declare his intention to retire from racing at the end of the season following what was his 200th win of the campaign at Newbury in the Game Spirit Chase.

The trainer said: "Dodging Bullets has gone under the radar. He is in the form of his life having won the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase.

"He has not been great in the spring before, but we have adapted his training slightly. To me he deserves to be favourite. It should not be done on sentiment but on form, and that is my view.

"I think Mr Mole will run a big race. He dotted up last week after being left 15 lengths at the start. He has won four races on the trot and won ones that Master Minded did.

"I always thought he was good but it has taken a bit of convincing. AP (McCoy) didn't really like him at first, but he has got confidence with him now and is on a roll.

"I think he has the more natural ability, whereas Dodging Bullets is the more hardened and tougher horse."

Nicholls labelled Silviniaco Conti as "the one to beat" in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he assembles a formidable squad for next month's showpiece four days in the Cotswolds.

He will be joined by dark horse Sam Winner, who was third in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas.

King George hero Silviniaco Conti was fourth to Lord Windermere last year, having fallen when still going well in the 2013 renewal.

Speaking on a Cheltenham preview panel after racing on Betfair Ascot Chase day, the champion trainer said: "I have no worries that Silviniaco Conti acts around Cheltenham, as he was travelling when he fell in the race two years ago.

"He had a few little mishaps training, but he is much more assured now. His last two wins have been two of the best performances of his career and he had a nice racecourse gallop with Sam Winner on Wednesday. On form he is the one to beat.

"Sam Winner is in good form and loves it around Cheltenham and he needs to be fresh, which he will be. He is the sort of horse that could run into a place at a big price."

Leading the Nicholls charge on the World Hurdle will be Zarkandar, fourth to More Of That 12 months ago.

The trainer went on: "I think Zarkandar should be favourite. He has solid form and and he probably should have won at Ascot before Christmas when he pulled up in front. The more competitive race will suit him and he had a racecourse gallop at Wincanton on Wednesday and it was the best I have seen him for a long time.

"Saphir Du Rheu is improving, but in my mind Zarkandar is a bit more battle hardened and experienced and I feel that Rock On Ruby will give him a good lead into the race, so he doesn't have to get there too soon."

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