Paul Nicholls reports Solo firmly on course for the JCB Triumph Hurdle following his sparkling British debut at Kempton last Saturday.
A winner for French maestro Guillaume Macaire at Auteuil in November, the Kapgarde colt was thrown in at the deep end on his first start for new connections, but was nevertheless a hot favourite for the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle.
Solo produced a near foot-perfect display, with the manner of his 13-length success seeing him rocket to the head of ante-posts lists for the juvenile championship at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Speaking at a press morning at his yard on Thursday, the champion trainer reported his charge to be none the worse for his weekend exertions and is excited to see what he can do at Prestbury Park on March 13.
“He is a beautiful horse and probably the only colt still running over hurdles at the moment,” said Nicholls.
“We have been delighted with him ever since he arrived. He is a big tank of a thing and takes loads of work.
“He was going to go to Wincanton a fortnight ago – we thought we would start small and work up. That meeting ended up being called off, so we went to Kempton and I’m glad we did as he showed that bit of ‘wow factor’ and we realised just what we had on our hands.”
Nicholls believes further improvement will be forthcoming from Solo, adding: “There is loads to work on. He has got plenty of condition and thrives on his work. You would hardly know he’d had a race at the weekend.
“He has got a mark of 157, but I think the handicapper must have just got a ruler out and worked out he was 10 lengths in front of the rest and put him up 10lb.
“It is quite a lofty rating and he is nearly rated the same as some in the Champion Hurdle. That would be interesting – running in a Champion Hurdle with an 8lb four-year-old allowance – but he will run in the Triumph.
“We are very hopeful he will go well at Cheltenham.”
Solo will be joined in the Triumph Hurdle by stable companion Sir Psycho, who has earned his shot at the Grade One prize following decisive wins at Exeter and Haydock since the turn of the year.
Nicholls said: “He will definitely run in the Triumph – we thought he was our main contender before Solo came out last week.
“He has progressed really well from a really slow start. He was a bit of a Jack the Lad to start with and he is probably well named, but he has progressed and has got a good attitude and done everything right.
“He won an all-aged novice hurdle at Exeter by 31 lengths on New Year’s Day and to make sure that wasn’t a fluke, we took him to Haydock for the Victor Ludorum, and he hosed in again.
“He is a progressive young horse. Whether he is in the same mould as Solo is a different matter, but he is a horse who will win a lot of races and will give a great account of himself at Cheltenham – he will gallop all the way up the hill.”
The JP McManus-owned Mick Pastor is another potential Nicholls runner in the Triumph, but he appears more likely to run in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, along with Thyme White.
“Mick Pastor joined us in the summer after winning at Auteuil in the spring. We went to Cheltenham with him in November and he pulled very hard, didn’t really go in the ground and it was a bit of a disaster,” said Nicholls.
“We found out he had quite bad ulcers, so we treated him for that and he went to Ludlow and absolutely bolted in. We’ve kept him back as he has a mark of 140, which puts him in between the horses at the top of the Boodles and the Triumph.
“I’ve not spoken to JP’s team to see what they would like to run him in, but I guess it would be the Boodles.
“Thyme White has had three runs. He was second to Goshen at Sandown on his debut, he was second at Kempton over Christmas and then won the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh.
“He has got a mark of 133, which is fair, and I think we can do something off that mark. He’s an improving horse and I would have said he goes there with a leading chance.”
Nicholls is considering an outing in the County Hurdle for Quel Destin following his runner-up finish in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday, with Bryan Carver potentially taking over in the saddle to claim a valuable 5lb.