Paul Nicholls has been crowned National Hunt Champion Trainer in 9 of of the last 10 seasons. He’s won 37 races at the Cheltenham Festival since his first winner in 1999, including 4 Gold Cups, 5 Champion Chases, 4 World Hurdles, a Champion Hurdle, and a Ryan Air Chase. Yet, this year, mainly due to the poor form of the stable up until recently, and somewhat to the ever-increasing dominance of Willie Mullins – his horses are being largely overlooked for this year’s races at the Cheltenham Festival.
However, as he’s trained at least one winner at each Festival since 2003, registering 2 wins or more on all but 3 occasions, and with a best tally of 5 wins, it could be time to take an interest in some of his big hopes with the Festival just 3 weeks away.
Old Guard 25/1 (Champion Hurdle)
The defection of Faugheen has potentially opened the door for an improving animal to throw his hat into the ring to be crowned champion Hurdler – and Old Guard could fit that bill. He’s already registered 3 wins at the course this season, starting with a handicap win off 137, then taking the Greatwood off 145, before beating some decent yardsticks in the International on ground deemed to soft for him. Cut to 16/1 after that win, he then doubled in price after flopping at Kempton over Christmas. However, with his stable back in form, and back at Cheltenham he could go well each-way at a working man’s price.
Vicente 20/1 (National Hunt Chase)
The 4-miler at Cheltenham is one that’s not currently on the Champion Trainer’s CV, but he looks to have an ideal candidate in the shape of Vicente. Also a hurdles winner at Cheltenham, he looked all about stamina when staying on to win a novice chase here, and wasn’t disgraced when trying to give weight to Blaklion and Onenightinvienna next time out here when the stable was in poor form.
Vibrato Valtat 14/1 (Ryan Air Chase)
Has thrown his hat into the ring against all the best 2-milers around this season but, despite performing admirably, has always looked like they were going a stride too fast for him. His stamina isn’t guaranteed for the extra five-furlongs of the Ryan Air but, Nicholls expects it to suit his charge, and this could be a race that cuts-up badly nearer the time.
Saphir Du Rheu 16/1 (World Hurdle)
Last year’s World hurdle runner-up was by no means disgraced when only fifth in the Hennessey when trying to concede between 8 and 24lb to the horses that finished in front of him. His price reflects a poor run over hurdles at Ascot since, again when the stable was under a cloud, and it would be no surprise if he were to at least place again in this year’s World Hurdle.