Nicholls can’t split pair

The bookmakers are in no doubt that Movewiththetimes is the number one hope for Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls in Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle, the most valuable handicap hurdle run in Britain.

Movewiththetimes: One of two Paul Nicholls runners in the Betfair Hurdle

The Ditcheat-based handler however, isn't playing down the chances of his 'second string' Zubayr after the pair worked well together in an away day at Wincanton races.

The five-year-old may have disappointed in the Triumph Hurdle but bounced back when third to Footpad at Auteuil in May and Nicholls was impressed with that run.

"He was only beaten a length and a half at Footpad which is good form," he said.

"He would have been second in the Elite Hurdle [but for falling]. He ran a good race but was just flat out all the way and just paid the price at the last. Then he was fifth at Sandown under 11-12 and wasn't beaten that far but he was nowhere near his best and he's not the biggest horse to be carrying 11-12.

"He's had a nice break since then and I just think he's a horse who will be better in the spring; as the spring improves he's going to get better.

"Last year he surprised us a little bit by winning the Adonis at Kempton, he was dropped right out last, they went quick and he stayed on strongly. We haven't actually ridden him like that since then and I think that's what we might have to do on Saturday.

"He's crying out for a real fast run handicap where we can just drop him in a little bit.

"He did a nice piece of work with Movewithetimes last week, could hardly split them, and the race might just suit him on Saturday. I know he's a lot better now than when was he went Sandown."

Despite fighting Zubayr's corner, Nicholls made no attempt to hide his admiration of Movewithetimes, 'a big strong horse who will make a lovely chaser in a year's time'.

The winner of a Wincanton bumper on his sole start last season, the son of Presenting followed up a debut hurdle success at Fontwell with a fifth place finish behind Moon Racer at Cheltenham where Nicholls believes very little went right for the novice.

"At Cheltenham he was beaten three and a half lengths by Moon Racer and he couldn't have got in any more trouble than he tried.

"It was one of those races where they all got in a muddle turning in, some went left, some went right but it was a bit of a funny result really. He got an awful run. He got blocked and stopped and the race never worked out, he ran a bit keen. He then went to Wincanton and won again and he's had a nice break since then."

One of four possible runners in the Betfair Hurdle for owner JP McManus, Nicholls 'will be surprised' if Barry Geraghty doesn't ride but confesses to being in the dark as to whether Movewiththetimes is well handicapped.

"He's got a mark of 136," he continued.

"Who knows if that's good bad or indifferent because he hasn't run since but if you've got a novice on a mark like that you'd hope to think they'll progress further than that. It's a hard job running in a race like that for a horse like him because he hasn't got the experience and it's a good fast, furious gallop so they have to be at their very best jumping wise so you're at a disadvantage experience wise but with a horse like this who knows where he might end up.

"One thing is sure, he's going to be a really smart chaser in time and we like him a lot."

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