Cheltenham Festival News

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival: Your essential Paul Nicholls Stable Tour

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Wed 3 Mar 2021

By Andy Stephens and Harry Allwood

Eleven-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls has guided the careers of some of the Cheltenham Festival greats.

Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s and Master Minded have been among his stars who have lit up the meeting, not to mention such as See More Business and Rock On Ruby.

The Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup have all been conquered by the master of Ditcheat. He’s won the them all – all at least once.

Nicholls is never one to dwell in the past, though, and is relishing the now, even though this month’s extravaganza will have a different feel without any spectators because of the global pandemic.

He watched a dozen of his squad have a morning spin at Wincanton before talking to member of the media via Zoom in a call organised by The Jockey Club.

The 12 provided a terrific spectacle as they galloped together, with the grey Politologue unmistakeable up near the head of affairs, which is where he always likes to be.

Politologue will attempt to retain his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase crown, while the “always underestimated” Frodon will seek a seventh course success in the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup under regular rider Bryony Frost.

The exciting Bravemansgame has leading prospects of giving Nicholls a first Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle success, while Bob And Co and Next Destination will also carry high hopes.

Here’s what Nicholls had to say about his leading lights.

AMOUR DE NUIT

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

Amour De Nuit would definitely get in. He has been running really nicely this season.

ASHUTOR

Johnny Henderson Grand Annual

I need to see the weights and make a plan for some of the others and see what the ground is, but Ashutor was always intended for this race after his run at Fontwell at the weekend. He’s been off all winter and ran well on the weekend over 2m 3f.

He needed the run a fraction and the idea was that the run would bring him on. He has to improve quite a lot, but he’s a good solid jumper and likes a fast run race, and novices have got a good record in this race so being a handicap he’s in there with a chance. He probably has to improve, but he will definitely come on for Sunday’s run.

BARBADOS BUCK’S

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Andy (Stewart) has got some good young horses for the future and Barbados Buck’s is one of them. He has been really progressive this season. He is rated 143 now and his form keeps getting better. He has won his last three.

The last day at Kempton he carried a 10lb penalty and he was strong from the back of the last and he won nicely. He is a proper staying horse and you need something here that will stay forever and he would be right in that. He worked nicely this morning. He is so laid back he will be absolutely fine (with the step up in class). We’ve progressed all along the lines with him.

He beat the horse that day (at Musselburgh) that Barbados Buck’s beat at Southwell (Fantastikas) which won at Fontwell on Sunday. They have got quite good form with him. He is unbeaten over hurdles but you wouldn’t know what is in the locker with him as he only just does enough. He goes along with his ears pricked, jumps well and he will definitely get every bit of the trip and is another with a nice chance. This is a nice horse.

BOB AND CO

St James’s Place Festival Hunters Chase

He would have a good chance on his day. It’s a race we have won quite a few times. The sad thing is David Maxwell (owner) bought him to ride himself in the race. He had a few issues with his wind last season but we sorted that out.

He won very impressively at Haydock the other day and it is just a shame David has got such a fantastic chance in the race and he can’t ride it. He has been sporting and said ‘get on and run him’ but he will get back on him the first time amateurs can ride again. David puts a lot into the sport and he has got some lovely horses to ride and it is a shame he won’t be able to ride him in this race. I think Bob And Co has a great chance.

BRAVEMANSGAME

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Bravemansgame was an impressive winner of the Challow Novices' Hurdle

The Challow was a nice race to win at Grade One level and he won very nicely that day. He’s always been really progressive, right from the start of the season when he was beaten a neck by Soaring Glory, who won the Betfair Hurdle last weekend. I was impressed that day by the fact that Harry (Cobden) could hardly pull him up afterwards, and he ran green and jumped green and my God did he improve.

Each run he’s got better and better and that culminated in him winning the Challow Hurdle at Christmas. He was really strong at the back of the last and stayed on strong, so this is the obvious race for him. He worked nicely this morning and I’m very happy with him and his preparation.

He’s a very relaxed horse, he’s not keen. At Newbury we just kept it simple because we knew he jumped and stayed, but a good strong pace suited him well. He’s a good ride and a class horse. It’s a hard race to win, years ago Denman was beaten in the race, so it’s a tough race to win and there’s some tough horses in it, but we think he’s got a great chance and he’s a lovely horse for the future.

He’s definitely improving physically all the time. I think the best will come from when he jumps a fence in the future, but he’s going into the race with a leading chance I feel.

CUT THE MUSTARD

Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase

She has been waiting for some better ground. It might well be her and Eglantine Du Seuil might just want to wait for better ground. We might just wait for the April meeting with them. You have got to be in there as you can’t win it if you are not in it. We will just wait and see if it is the right thing or not to run.

DUC DES GENIEVRES

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Duc Des Genievres – Duc as we call him – won the Arkle two years ago and has run some tidy races this year. I feel he’s just shy of a Grade One horse and we have to decide if he runs in this or runs in the Grand Annual, but he seems to be coming together now and he would probably want some slightly better ground.

ECCO

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

Ecco who ran very well the other day at Kempton would get in but he is very ground dependant and he likes good ground.

Saint Sonnet and Solo are also in there. There are three or four in there. The handicaps are hard to work out at the moment. You need to see what the ground is like and what weight they are. It is nice to have a couple to select that you could hope would be competitive.

EGLATINE DU SEUIL

Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle/Coral Cup

She’s in the Mares’ Hurdle and she’s also in the Coral Cup, which is probably a race which might be a little more suitable for her. She was a bit disappointing the last time she ran, and it’s just been hard to get her right. She’s run a good couple of good solid races, and I think she wants good ground to get the best out of her. If it was soft, I’d be thinking again about running her, so she’s one we’ve got to make a decision on next week. If we did run, I’d say it’s more likely to be in the Coral Cup.

FRODON

WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup

Frodon was not for passing in the King George VI Chase

We’ve been very lucky to win it four times with Kauto Star, Denman and See More Business. It’s been a fantastic race and I’d love to win it again.

I know his owner Paul, who sadly lost his wife Ruth recently, is really proud. It would be a massive boost if he ran well. He would be a mighty proud man just to have runner in the Gold Cup. He has been in racing a long, long time and to just have a chance in the Gold Cup will mean an awful lot to him and his family.

He is the sort of horse that no one will expect to win the Gold Cup but if he did it wouldn’t be a surprise. No one expected him to win a King George, but he keeps surprising people. He was always a decent horse but I never envisaged him being quite to this level. His first couple of years he ran some good races and he won the Victor Ludorum over hurdles. He flattened off but then he found some extra form and strength.

He just took a while to mature, that was the thing. When he got to full maturity he kept on improving. He has come a long way. He has surprised me to be honest with you.

They (Bryony Frost and Frodon) are a match made in heaven and they do get on particularly well. She and Frodon have gone a long way and there is definitely a rapport between them. You wouldn’t want her not being on him. She knows him well. She was saying this morning how much of a turn of foot he has got. It’s the biggest race he will ever run in his life and he deserves to be there.

We ran him in last year’s Ryanair and he was completely outpaced all the way. We decided this year we would stay over a longer trip. We were debating a couple of years ago (going for the Gold Cup). When he won the Cotswold Chase (2019) that gave me the idea one day he could run in it. Paul (Vogt) has always wanted to have a runner in the Gold Cup which hopefully he is going to have this year. He is going to be a bit more of a livelier runner than we thought.

At the start of the season he won that handicap at Cheltenham off top weight. That was a huge run and huge effort and I thought this is the season to do it (go for the Gold Cup). He is right up there with the best. He loves the track and we are hopeful of a good run. He is always underestimated. He always gives a good account of himself and you can never rule him in or out.

It suits him to make the running but he doesn’t have to make the running. When he has won some of those good handicaps at Cheltenham earlier on, especially over a shorter trip he got better the quicker they went - he got a bit of a lead and that suited him. He jumps his way into the race. You can ride him how you find him.

If the ground is better some of those horses that are a little bit more one-paced struggle a little bit. This horse has got plenty of boot and he can dictate things a bit. The ground helps him tactically. He doesn’t have to make the running but he loves being forwards anyway.

GOLD BULLION

Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Gold Bullion is a very nice horse. This might come a bit too soon for him after he won at Warwick, and he may go for another race.

GREANETEEN

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Greaneteen is going to run as well. He ran a bit free in the Game Spirit at Newbury and carried a penalty, but was just a bit free and a bit fresh. He’s a horse that if they go fast around there could run into a place. I’m not expecting him to win but he deserves to take his place.

HELL RED

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Hell Red won very nicely at Chepstow at the start of the season and looked very promising on decent ground and then he went to Cheltenham on softer ground and after a mile he was choking. He had a breathing problem, so he had a breathing operation and I had to get a run into him somewhere, so he went to Wincanton two weeks ago on very heavy ground.

He ran ok, he needed the run, and when I saw he was 3-1 on in the morning I thought ‘I can’t believe this’ because I said in my Betfair column that he’d probably need the run. He ran really tidily, and he got dropped 3lbs for that which was a bonus actually. He was 134 and is now 131 and he’s done a lot of graft since and still has got a lot of hard work. If the ground was good to soft that would be perfect for him and he’s definitely there with a chance, he’ll improve a lot on Wincanton.

HITMAN

Marsh Novices’ Chase

Hitman finished second behind Allmankind in the Henry Viii Novices' Chase in December

Hitman is an interesting one. I wanted to run him last Saturday at Kempton but couldn’t because of the ground. He’s also entered at Newbury this weekend and again the ground is an issue. In the back of my mind is the fact that in a perfect world I’d probably run him at the weekend and then go to Aintree for the two and a half mile novices’ chase there, but if I miss this weekend for whatever reason, I could be tempted to have a look at this.

I think it could cut up a bit with Envoi Allen and people might dodge him – so Hitman is still a possible in my mind, depending on whether we go on Saturday or not.

HOUX GRIS

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Houx Gris was third in a Grade One (on his yard debut at Chepstow in January) and ran very well in very heavy ground. He won at Auteuil the time before that and although Auteuil was given as heavy ground that day – which they always do – it wasn’t that bad. He ran really nicely (at Chepstow) and I probably ran him a bit too quick after we bought him. He ran nicely, and this was obviously a nice race for him off 128. He galloped nicely this morning, and I’d say he’s got a nice chance, he’s a lovely horse.

MAGIC SAINT

Paddy Power Plate

Saint Sonnet is going to go over hurdles. My Way won’t get in the race and Doctor Sanderson is probably the same so I’d imagine that if we were going to run anything it would be Magic Saint. He looks as though he’s crying out for a trip. He ran in the Game Spirit the other day and was a bit one paced over the last, so he probably wants a longer trip, so if I did run one it would probably be him.

NEXT DESTINATION

National Hunt Chase and Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

We’ll talk about the National Hunt Challenge Cup. He’s also in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, which is a race we really want to run him in and if it’s soft we’ll run him in that. But we just put him in this race because he obviously stays very strongly. He’s a novice, obviously another plus is that Harry (Cobden) can ride him now, and we’ll probably confirm him at the five-day stage for both races and make a plan. It’s almost certain that if it’s soft he’ll run in the Brown Advisory, but this is an option.

POLTOLOGUE

Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Relive Politologue's victory in last year's Champion Chase

I love this race. It’s a fantastic race and I’ve been very lucky to have some fantastic horses win it. Politologue winning last year was fantastic for him and for everybody connected with the horse and this year is his sixth Festival, which is amazing. If you could see him gallop this morning, he was very impressive, he comes good at this time of year and he’s in there with a chance.

I think it was a good run (at Ascot). The ground was probably testing enough for him that day, he’s slightly better on spring ground and it might be that Cheltenham just suits him very well. He’s a horse who gives his all, there were no excuses and he was beaten by a better horse on the day. He still ran to a very high level, which he will do in this race, and you know he’s solid, he’ll go a nice gallop and will give you a nice run for your money.

Obviously, Willie’s horse (Chacun Pour Soi) looks very smart, but he’s not run at Cheltenham before and he’s got to act on the track. I don’t doubt that if he does do he’ll be hard to beat, but you should never be afraid of one and we’re going into it – being realistic – with a nice chance, but it’ll be hard.

Whatever happens, Harry Cobden rides Politologue and Bryony Frost will ride Greaneteen.

RAINYDAY WOMAN

Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Rainyday Woman is a very smart filly who won a listed race at Huntingdon the other day. She’s two from two this year and she’s intended to go to Sandown next weekend, where there’s a very good mares’ race, but I thought I better have her in this in case something goes wrong or the ground is too quick at Sandown.

REAL STEEL

Ryanair Chase

He ran very well in last year’s Gold Cup. Obviously, they didn’t go a great gallop and he travelled into it and looked like he might win going to the last, but didn’t stay up the hill. He’s not a stayer, and I think this trip is right for him.

He worked beautifully this morning when we took him away (to Wincanton), which was a really good sign and he looks good in his coat at the moment. He ran in the King George at Christmas and if you watch the race, he jumped the last down the back going really well and travelled into the straight looking like he was going to be involved and then stopped.

It transpired that he bled, which has been a bit frustrating, but we’ve got him over that and he looks good. We’ve changed our routine with him, and we’ve got him right he would go into the race with a chance.

Those horses who have come from Willie have been hard to get used to our routine. Obviously what they do is completely different to what we do and it’s taken some of them a little while to settle into our routine, but they’re getting there now and he definitely looked the best he has done in this morning’s gallop, and I was very pleased with him – so hopefully he’ll put up a good show.

He ran well in the Gold Cup last year and with better ground on the right trip, he could run well.

SAINT SONNET

Coral Cup

I might just run Saint Sonnet. He’s been a little disappointing over fences and hasn’t jumped his fences as well as we’d have liked. He probably got stuck in really soft ground and he worked great this morning. He’s rated 143 I think over hurdles, and he’s a classy horse, so that might just be his race. Some of the others might not get in and with Eglantine Du Seuil we’ll be going for this or the Mares’ race if we run her at all.

SHANTOU FLYER

Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Sponsored by JRL Group)

Shantou Flyer is a nice old horse. He was going to run in some hunter chases with David Maxwell, but because of what’s happened with Covid we’ve qualified him for the Kim Muir. He’ll be ridden by either Harry Cobden or Angus Cheleda, who rode him the last day.

I was a bit disappointed to be honest with the handicapper – I spoke to him about it last week. He’s 11 years old, he’s run twice for this yard off 136 and got beat both times with a claimer riding him, and the last time he ran he got put up 5lbs. I actually said, ‘I thought that was unrealistic as you’ve got to give horses a chance – he’s 11, why did you put him up 5lbs when he can’t win off 136?’ He said he’d have a look at it and has dropped him one pound. To be honest with you that’s taking the mick and I was a bit disappointed with that. If he can’t win off 136 he can’t win off 140, so he has it all to do off that mark.

SHEARER

Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Shearer is an intended runner. He’s a very nice horse and just got beat on his debut at Hereford and then he won well at Warwick on ground that was far too testing for him. He’s had a nice break, has improved and definitely deserves to take his chance. I think he was named after Alan Shearer. Alan is well aware of the horse’s name and has followed him. Max (McNeill) who owns him wanted to call him Shearer.

SOLDIER OF LOVE

Ultima Handicap Chase and National Hunt Chase

Soldier of Love is in the Ultima and the National Hunt Chase. He worked this morning and the key to him is good ground. I’ve been talking to Simon (Claisse) just now and he says that the ground is good to soft just now which is where he wants it to be.

There is rain forecast next week, and it won’t take too much to go back to being soft, so if it’s soft he’s unlikely to run. He’s a horse who’s more likely to take his chance in the spring on better ground, but we just thought it was prudent to enter him in case we had a dry spring and he’s 50-50 to run in either race.

SOUTHFIELD HARVEST

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

He’s (Southfield Harvest) a real strong stayer and he ran well at Newbury the other day. I was a bit disappointed he went up 3lbs for being beaten, which I thought was a bit harsh, but Cheltenham will suit him – preferably a good gallop, and the slower ground the better for him.

STORM ARISING

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

Storm Arising just keeps on improving. He won at Lingfield and then he sort of pulled himself up a little bit when second at Sandown and then he won very well at Chepstow the other day. He likes soft ground, we’ve kept him fresh and Bryony (Frost) will ride him, while Harry (Cobden) will ride Southfield Harvest. Both have chances in a very competitive race.

STRATAGEM

Marsh Novices’ Chase

I think for Stratagem this will probably come a bit too soon for him. He’s going to go for a valuable novices’ handicap at Sandown on the Saturday before Cheltenham.

THYME WHITE

McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

Thyme White is an intended runner in this. He ran a really tidy race in the Betfair the other day and coming to the last he looked dangerous. He hadn’t run for a long time and he obviously needed the run but he has obviously sharpened up a lot for that.

If it was a nice dry week and it was goodish ground on the last day that would suit him well. He could run well. The key to him, like when he won at Musselburgh last year, is that he loves good ground. My view was always to get a run into him at Newbury, run him in this if the ground was okay, if it was soft we might think twice about it. He will definitely be heading up to Ayr for the Scottish Champion Hurdle. That would be a good race for him.

Christopher Wood is in at Kelso, Lucky One is in at Kelso, Pic D’Orhy could run in the Imperial Cup, Solo is in at Kelso, but Thyme White would be the main one.

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