Paul Nicholls believes Topofthegame can provide him with a third victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Narrowly beaten in the Coral Cup at Prestbury Park last March, the seven-year-old has run just twice over fences this season – and has suffered defeat on both occasions.
However, he ran a remarkable race to fill the runner-up spot on his first run of the campaign at Exeter after completely blowing the start – and was last seen splitting La Bague Au Roi and Santini in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicholls won successive renewals of the RSA with Star De Mohaison (2006) and the mighty Denman (2007), and feels the giant Topofthegame has plenty going for him in his tilt at the extended three-mile contest in little over a fortnight’s time.
Speaking during a press event at his Ditcheat yard on Tuesday, Nicholls said: “He is in the RSA and the JLT (Novices’ Chase), but he is almost certain to run in the RSA. The only way he would run in the JLT is if the weather changed, and it was a foot deep of mud, but that isn’t going to happen.
“He is probably as tall a horse you would see in training – he is huge – but he has lots of ability.
“His Exeter run was a bit of a disaster, because he whipped round at the start – although it may not have been such a bad thing. He gave them the best part of 25 or 30 lengths, but jumped nicely in behind and finished second to Defi Du Seuil, which is top-class form.
“He went to Kempton over Christmas and was second in the Kauto Star to La Bague Au Roi, who won the Grade One at Leopardstown the other day. That is really good form as well.
“Hopefully he is one our big chances of the Festival.”
While Topofthegame is prominent in the betting for the RSA Chase, his stablemate Capeland is a big outsider for the the Arkle Trophy the previous afternoon.
However, Nicholls feels he could outrun his odds of around 50-1, saying: “I might run him in the Arkle. He ran well at Chepstow last weekend and is progressing all the time.
“I think the Arkle could cut up, so he may go there and could make the frame.”
The Somerset handler also has a strong hand in some of the handicap chases at the showpiece fixture.
Perhaps his most notable handicap runner is Give Me A Copper, who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and has been backed into favouritism for the Ultima Handicap Chase following an eye-catching return from a lengthy absence at Sandown.
“He would be one of our interesting ones on the first day of the Festival. He is favourite – he’s fragile but talented,” said Nicholls.
“As a young horse in Ireland, he won his only point-to-point and a bumper. He won a couple of novice hurdles for us and then came back in last season and won his novice chase at Kempton, and sustained an injury.
“He came back at Sandown the other day with a big weight and ran a really good fourth. He travelled well, jumped well and got a bit tired from the back of the second-last.
“He hadn’t been anywhere at all for a gallop, so that race will bring him on, and the idea is to go for the Ultima – and if he goes well in that he would go for the Grand National.
“He has not had a great deal of experience, but he is a solid jumper and is a class horse – I’d be very hopeful of a big run at Cheltenham.”
Nicholls is hoping to be double-handed in the Grand Annual, with last year’s winner Le Prezien set to be joined by stablemate and leading ante-post fancy Magic Saint.
He said: “Magic Saint was a four-time winner at Auteuil last year over hurdles and fences. He has just taken a little while to acclimatise.
“He won at Wincanton 10 days ago in a two-mile handicap chase. He absolutely sluiced in that day and jumped well and travelled well. Daryl Jacob rode him and was absolutely thrilled.
“We were always training him with the Grand Annual in mind. He is a progressive horse that is going forward.”
Of Le Prezien, Nicholls added: “He is a bit behind in his coat compared to some of the others. For him, though, he is quite well forward.
“He is a pound higher than when he won last year. He is a funny horse, who always comes good in the spring.
“If he can put in one of his better rounds of jumping he is not without a chance.”
Despite finishing down the field on his latest outing at Haydock, Pacha Du Polder will bid for a third win in the Foxhunter Chase – and will be joined by stablemate and impressive Doncaster scorer Wonderful Charm.
Nicholls said: “Wonderful Charm won by 55 lengths at Doncaster the other day, and was right back to his best. That run would give him a right chance in what I think is an open race.
“Pacha Du Polder had his normal ordinary first run, but he is a lot sharper for it.
“Cheltenham seems to suit him, because they go flat out and you can just ride him in behind and pass a few horses.”