Champion trainer Paul Nicholls looks ahead to the Cheltenham Festival
SOME of his old stable stars might not be there, but Olveston-born champion trainer Paul Nicholls is excited to be taking a new-look team to the Cheltenham Festival next week.
Former Gold Cup champions Kauto Star and Denman and two-time Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Master Minded have retired, while Big Buck’s will not be going for a fifth consecutive World Hurdle title due to injury, leaving Nicholls with a less familiar line-up for the four-day showpiece at Prestbury Park.
However, it presents an opportunity for some new heroes from his Ditcheat yard to emerge with Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti amongst the favourites for the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup respectively.
“We’re not as nervous as usual but we’ve still got Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti and a lot of nice horses in a new team,” said Nicholls.
“The others cannot go on forever. We’re looking to the future and we’ve got some nice chances.
“Zarakandar and Silviniaco Conti have got great chances but the big races are very hard to win. “We’ve got some nice chances in the handicap races but it’s incredibly competitive at the Festival and hard to win.” Nicholls will be hoping Zarkandar can get his Festival off to a great start on Tuesday.
The six-year-old finished fifth in the Champion Hurdle last year, but has won on his last three outings and is second favourite behind Hurricaine Fly.
Nicholls hopes Sanctuaire will be able to get a place in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, while Wonderful Charm represents his best chance in the World Hurdle on Thursday with Celestial Halo, Aaim to Prosper and Prospect Wells also entered.
“Sanctuaire goes in the Champion Chase but it’s an impossible task to beat Sprinter Sacre so we’ll just hope to pick up the crumbs,” said Nicholls.
Silviniaco Conti is third favourite for the Gold Cup on Friday, behind Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs.
Nicholls believes Sam Winner in the Pertemps Final on Thursday represents his best chance of a winner from the other races.