Another campaign filled with big-race success is on the cards for Paul Nicholls, given the array of talent at his disposal.
While a season-ending injury to RSA winner Topofthegame was an early blow the champion trainer could have done without, it has failed to dampen the optimism that abounds at Ditcheat – such is the strength and depth among the team.
Arguably the brightest prospect is Britain’s highest-rated chaser Cyrname, who was given his lofty mark of 176 following his 17-length demolition job in the Ascot Chase – a performance Nicholls hopes he can repeat this season.
Nicholls said: “He was awesome when he won the handicap at Ascot – and the form of that win was fantastic, because he beat Politologue by 20 lengths, who was then only just beaten by Altior in the Champion Chase.
“He improved a bit mentally last year, which was the biggest key to him because he was a tearaway for the first 18 months.
“He seems in great order, and we are looking forward to going to Ascot (Christy 1965 Chase on November 23) with him, then the King George.
“He is a very talented horse and we just want to see him produce what he did last year, and there is no reason why he won’t.
“He gets two-five very well, so you would like to think he will stay three miles.”
Although Frodon is not as flamboyant as Cyrname, his rise to the top has been nothing short of remarkable – and after he claimed the first Grade One success of his career in the Ryanair Chase, Nicholls has mapped out a path towards more big-race targets.
He said: “Frodon will go to the Old Roan (at Aintree), then the Betfair Chase because I think it will be a race that will suit him.
“The improvement from him being an ordinary handicapper the season before to being a Grade One horse is amazing.
“With a little bit more strength and stamina, he could develop into a Gold Cup horse – and he has already won over the trip in the trial (Cotswold Chase) last season.”
Clan Des Obeaux has always been held in high regard – and after securing Nicholls a 10th King George VI success, he could now attempt to give him a fifth victory in next month’s Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal.
Nicholls said: “He ran very well in the Betfair Chase last season – we knew he would improve, but we didn’t know he would be as good in the King George as he was. He just didn’t see the trip out in the Gold Cup.
“He is a talented horse and has improved a bit, but he needs to. He goes to Down Royal, all being well. Then we might look at the Betfair – it is more likely he will go to the King George, but nothing is set in stone.
“If he didn’t go to Down Royal, he would go to the Betfair.”
With reigning Champion Chase hero Altior set to step up in trip, Nicholls hopes Politologue can stamp his authority on the two-mile chasing division this term.
He said: “He had a breathing operation in the summer and that might just help him. He will stick to two miles – he was very good in the Champion Chase last year, and that will be his number one target.
“There is the Shloer Chase, the Tingle Creek, Clarence House – then we might just leave him fresh for Cheltenham.
“We rode him a little bit different in the Champion Chase, because we just hung on to him for a bit and gave him chance to fill his lungs up. I thought jumping the last he was going to win, but his wind was just catching him a bit.
“I’m looking forward to the season with him.”
Of all the novice hurdle prospects set to fly the flag for Nicholls this season, McFabulous – last seen winning the Grade Two bumper at Aintree in April – could emerge as the star pupil.
Nicholls said: “He is a nice horse and is one of a number of nice bumper horses we had last year. We will just wait for some nice cut in the ground, but he will be ready to go soon.
“He is one we are really looking forward to getting going over hurdles.
“We might start him off at two miles, but I think he will end up being a two-and-a-half-miler. However, he will tell us as the season goes on. He jumps really well.”
Others to note
Ask For Glory
“I liked how he won at Chepstow, but it was a different experience mentally going to Cheltenham. It is a big occasion, but it didn’t do him any harm. We turned him away, and he just wants time.
“This season will be a filling one, because in 12 months’ time he will be a lovely chaser.”
“His ‘Gold Cup’ was winning at Sandown in April, and he ran well off a big weight at Galway. His aim firstly will be the Charlie Hall – then it is a hard place to go with him. He might just be a great one to run in the Peterborough Chase.
“He won’t be a National horse. He ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy and he didn’t see it out.”
“He is back in work now, but my view was to run him in the Game Spirit en route to Cheltenham. It might just be that he now wants two and a half. He will have an entry in the Champion Chase and the Ryanair, but he won’t come out until after Christmas.”
“It was a good start over hurdles for him at Wincanton, and we will find another race like that before looking at something better. Something like that Grade Two race at Sandown just before Christmas is what I would be thinking. That would suit him well.”
“He jumped well, schooling on Monday over fences. It was a good run at Sandown, carrying all that weight. I’d like to think he will improve over a fence, and if he could be a 155-rated chaser that would be awesome.”
“He fell at the last at Kempton. But the whole idea of that was to give him a run, because he can be fresh first time out, before he goes novice chasing. He has jumped well over fences at home.”
“She did well to win the Imperial Cup last season. She made one bad mistake at Market Rasen the other day, and that took the stuffing out of her a bit. It’s all about getting confidence into her.
“If it didn’t work out over fences we would switch her back to hurdles, but we will carry on over fences for the time being.”
“The plan is to go to a Listed mares’ novice chase at Bangor on November 13. It’s a good prize to go for.”
“He just needed the run on the Flat the other day, but he ran OK. To me the ultimate race for him this season will be the National Spirit at Fontwell, because that will be made for him. If he ends up winning that this season, it will be like winning the Gold Cup for him.”
“Yala Enki has joined us this season. He might get an entry in the National, but his main target is the Welsh National. He is rated 157, so he is not the best handicapped in the world, but he is a nice horse.”