Nicholls glad to be back in action

Jump racing returns after shutdown.

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Paul Nicholls hopes he can hit the ground running as the new National Hunt kicks off at Southwell on Wednesday.

The 11-times champion trainer will send six runners to the Nottinghamshire track as jump racing returns for the first time since March 17 following the coronavirus shutdown,

Although Flat racing returned on June 1, the Ditcheat handler believes it was the right decision by the British Horseracing Authority to give the National Hunt sphere additional time off ahead of its resumption.

Nicholls said: “It is nice to get jump racing going again and it looks like there will be some competitive races at Southwell, which is good for fans of jump racing.

“The BHA did the right thing in just letting Flat racing start as those boys had missed a good part of their season, while it has also helped give us a better idea of what to expect.

“I should have a team of about 25 to run between now and October that all want better ground. Some of those will mix and match with racing on the Flat.

“By the start of October, Richard Johnson and Harry Skelton have usually ridden a bucket load of winners, but hopefully we can give Harry Cobden as many winners as we can and have a bit of fun over the next three months.”

While it is more than three months since Nicholls sent out his last jumps runners, things have been ticking over steadily at Manor Farm Stables.

He added: “You can’t just chuck the horses out into the field for the summer. They have to be let down properly, so in that sense things were still a little bit like normal with the exception we just missed our last six weeks of the season.

“We’ve obviously not had any jump runners since March, but we have had a few run on the Flat over the last few weeks.

“Everyone has been paid during this period which is important and I didn’t have to lay anyone off and, touch wood, no one has been ill.

“All the winter horses will be coming back in next week, so we will start cracking on with them to get them ready for the autumn.”

Nicholls also had praise for the sport’s governing body in getting racing back up and running.

He added: “It has been a tough job for the BHA and they have had a fair bit of criticism, but they have had a lot on their plate.

“I think they have done a great job and done really well in the circumstances.

“It was a big thing getting this right, but racing has looked very professional and well run since returning. It has looked good from the outside.”

Assessing his team for the opening day of the new season, Nicholls believes Ashutor, who was last sighted finishing down the field in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot, hurdling debutant Thrave and first-time-out novice chaser Nineohtwooneoh, represent his best chances of saddling a winner.

He said: “Ashutor won a maiden hurdle at Catterick, but he always lets himself down and is not always one to trust. This looks a very ordinary novice hurdle for him under a penalty.

“He had a lovely run around Ascot on the flat and that should put him right. Two miles is more his trip, so hopefully he will run well.

“Thrave is a 90-rated Flat horse. He had a nice spin around Haydock the other day and he jumps well at home. If he can do that on the track, he should have a chance.

“Nineohtwooneoh won at Musselburgh last season. Every time we have wanted to run him the ground has been wrong, as he wants better ground. He should improve now going over fences.”

Nicholls glad to be back in action
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