Paul Nicholls: Five things
Sky Bet's Michael Shinners and Ian Ogg pick out five things that they learned from the visit to Paul Nicholls' stables.
Could Movewiththetimes emulate Al Ferof and Noland and win the Supreme?
No more adventures for the famous five
The breaking news, of course, had nothing to do with Paul Nicholls' as the grapevine went into overdrive with word that last year's Stayers' Hurdle hero and Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack was out for the season. From the last Cheltenham Festival we are also missing the Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre (retired), Gold Cup winner Don Cossack (retired), Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen (injured) and Ryanair Chase winner Vautour (deceased). It's a tough sport that takes its toll on participants which makes the fairytale successes all the more enjoyable but this season has been more Brothers Grimm than …..
Keeping your owners happy
Not answering your phone to them probably wouldn't be high up on the 'how to' list but at least Nicholls had a decent excuse to ignore Sir Alex Ferguson for much of the morning before dashing off to Taunton to watch Sir Alex's Tommy Silver win the feature handicap hurdle which should have helped smooth things over. Andy Stewart reportedly likes runners in the big races which is why Saphir du Rheu is still in the Gold Cup but you have to pick your battles and Old Guard, co-owned by Stewart, will be running in the Coral Cup 'if I get my way' said Nicholls (before hastily adding a more diplomatic addendum about discussions and team decisions).
It's a team game
Football analogies get a regular airing at Ditcheat these days with Nicholls saying in 2009: "It's fascinating to talk to Alex; there's a lot of similarities. Like a football team, you've always got to be offloading a few and bringing new ones through, always moving forward. That's what we both do." Nicholls has emphasised that has very much been the case this season but the team goes beyond the equine participants with the support from Clifford Baker, Harry Derham and beyond. They were left to look after 'AP' this afternoon who was visiting the yard on behalf of his 'team' to run over their squad for Cheltenham and word has it Movewiththetimes has been compared favourably with Sky Bet Supreme Novice Hurdle winners Al Ferof and Noland.
Because he's worth it
Prior to the Betfair Hurdle, Nicholls seemed in little doubt that Barry Geraghty would ride Movewithetimes ahead of Consul De Thaix (who wasn't declared as it turned out) and he seemed equally certain that Geraghty would opt to ride Alan King's Yanworth in the Champion Hurdle ahead of the Nicky Henderson-trained favourite Buveur d'Air and that the Kingwell Hurdle winner was 'probably' the one that they all had to beat.
Ready, aim, fire!
Plans are shrouded in uncertainty, much like Bath racecourse was in fog this morning, and that's in part due to the horses Nicholls has at his disposal. The Grade One horses pick their own races but the handicappers need to be placed to best advantage and for all bar a couple of races that means leaving their options open, assessing the opposition, ground etc and then setting your sights on a target. Nicholls has re-iterated time and again that there's no point 'wasting shots for the sake of it' at Cheltenham as there's plenty of prize money to be won as well as he bids to retain the trainer's title. It may not help the ante-post punter but it does mean that anything he runs in the handicaps has to be worth more than a second look and if you need further persuasion, just watch a re-run of last season's Grand Annual.