Record total in sight after Paul Nicholls’ latest century?
After picking a hundred winners for the season at Taunton last week, John Ingles looks to the stable’s best prospects for further success.
Paul Nicholls was not present to welcome back his last big race winner afterwards Pic d’Orhy had given him a third win in the last four rounds of the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday. But the trainer went on holiday last week after saddled a four-stroke at Taunton on Monday that took him over the hundred mark for the season.
Nicholls first reached a century of winners in 1998/99 and has done so again every season since 2001/02, with the exception of the shortened 2019/20 season. Even then he was well on his way with 96 winners on the board and had certainly reached the milestone when racing was halted following the Cheltenham Festival due to the pandemic.
Nicholls’ highest total came the next season when he saddled 176 winners in 2020/21, with one in four of his runners winning. This season, however, he’s currently operating at a 30% batting average, raising the possibility that he could top his total from two years ago.
Given where the stable’s biggest gains have come from in recent weeks, it was interesting to read what Nicholls had to say about his team during a stable tour in early October. “We may be weak on beginner hurdlers, but that will make up for it as some will surprise you.”
Whether they were surprises or not, Grade 1 wins for beginner hurdles Hermes Allen in the Challow at Newbury and Tahmuras at Tolworth at Sandown the following week have shown Ditcheat to be far from weak in this particular division. Hermes Allen is now the ante-post favorite for the Ballymore Novices hurdle, while Tahmuras is the lowest-priced British contender for the Supreme. At the beginning of the season, however, the two novices were admittedly unknown quantities.
Tahmuras had won a bumper on his second start of the spring at Wincanton, while Irish points winner Hermes Allen was yet to make his debut for the court despite carrying a £350,000 price tag. The pair are now unbeaten in three starts each over hurdles, with Tahmuras also having won a listed event at Haydock and Hermes Allen a Grade 2 at Cheltenham.
Other novice hurdlers who have shown great skill are Henri the secondWinner of the grade 2 winter freshmen hurdle at Sandown in December and Knowsley Street, who won his first two starts over hurdles at Chepstow before taking a respectable third place at the Leamington Novices hurdle in Warwick on Saturday. Both are very forward-thinking types.
Among other things, promising newcomers are able to win more races over hurdles stay away fayanother expensive buy of Irish points that looked like a stalker on its successful debut at Newbury in November in a race that Bravemansgame and Stage Star had won for the stable in the previous two years. Hugo’s new horse scored a hat-trick in Exeter on New Year’s Day and is open to further improvement over two miles lallygaga brother to the very smart pursuer Lalor, is a likeable bloke and managed three out of four hurdles with an emphatic win at Taunton just before Christmas.
Other advances are well over hurdles Irish hillwinner of the handicaps at Taunton and Fakenham in his last few starts and novice timing who won last time at Taunton and is considered the type fit by big field handicaps. In fact, he is one of several Betfair Hurdle entries in his stable which includes other newcomers Rubaud and useful handicaps hacker of the place and Ice who were second at Ascot and Sandown in their only starts that season.
Whatever Champion Hurdle entry Knapper’s Hill scored throughout the remainder of the season, he has already won the Silver Trophy and Elite Hurdle as a handicapper in the fall Red Risk has belied long chances to prove himself over hurdles better than ever lately, winning at Newbury before narrowly going down with a smart performance in Lanzarote at Kempton on Saturday.
But it’s the chasers who are leading their stable’s assault on some of this season’s biggest prizes and braveman game confirmed himself as Ditcheater’s new stable star when he gave Nicholls a thirteenth win at the King George VI Chase. That was a top performance from a horse that had an exciting prospect from the start of his career. Adding to earlier success at Charlie Hall in Wetherby, a remarkably good jumper, Bravemansgame was only beaten once in seven chases and is now heading straight for the Gold Cup.
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Former King George winner Frodo finished third this time after starting with his usual enthusiasm and scoring a nineteenth career win when he led 12-0 to victory at the Badger Beer Handicap Chase in Wincanton in November. The stable’s third King George bishop hit man has not given up his run (allegedly bled to death) but he still has youth on his side and he is a quality pursuer in his day as he showed when he easily won a final hunt at Haydock the time before. Another King George hero from Nicholls, double winner Clan des Obeauxis now 11 and recovering from a tendon injury but is reportedly aiming to win a third bowl chase at Aintree.
over two miles greineteen is another of the stable’s top pursuers, having proved at least as good as ever in winning the Haldon Gold Cup but no match for Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek Chase. first Pic d’Orhy has quietly worked his way up to become one of his stable’s top chasers this season, winning all three of his starts and following his Peterborough Chase win with that emphatic win at Kempton on Saturday that qualifies him for a crack in Grade 1 Company rather than later.
Nicholls might not have been overly optimistic about his rookie hurdles early in the season, but he had a lot to look forward to among his rookies and there were several good winners among them. McFabulous looked as rosy as any of them in wins at Exeter and Newbury but had excuses for his defeat at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase when Thyme Hill, whom he had beaten last time out, turned the tables; Not only was he found out by the larger endurance test, but he also ended up lame.
Gelino Bello fell at the Kauto Star when he was not yet being asked about his performance but had won his previous Novices at Wetherby and Exeter and the National Hunt Novices’ Chase seems his most suitable festival destination provided he stays over fences (has receive a Stayers’ Hurdle entry ). stage star was narrowly beaten over fences on his second start but has handled easier tasks at Warwick and Plumpton on either side of that in good style and remains with potential. Completely unknown already looks like a better pursuer when he was a hurdler and although he was unable to follow up on his debut success over hurdles at Ffos Las when he was relegated to Galia des Liteaux in Warwick on Saturday, the winner looks like a smart filly.
Monmiral Hasn’t overcome any obstacles yet, but it should only be a matter of time before he finds a chance to win. He met Jonbon on his hunting debut at Warwick and then found only too good a thrilling candidate The Real Whacker when he was the favorite for the Dipper Novices’ chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
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