Paul Nicholls believes Real Steel could be an “interesting” recruit for his yard as he prepares to make his debut for his new trainer in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Nicholls has won the last two renewals of the Grade Two, with Politologue in 2018 and Cyrname in a fascinating contest 12 months ago in which he inflicted a first defeat over obstacles on Altior.
While it might be fanciful to suggest this year’s four runners can match that race for drama, they are nevertheless classy operators in their own right.
Real Steel was the last horse off the bridle in the Gold Cup, Imperial Aura was a Festival winner, Itchy Feet won a Grade One as a novice last season while Black Corton reserves his best for Ascot.
“While I am still learning about Real Steal I do think he could be a really interesting recruit after joining us this season from Willie Mullins,” said Nicholls.
“I thought he ran a cracker in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he was bang there at the last fence before weakening up the hill.
“Though I haven’t been hard on him he is fit and I’ve given him an entry in the King George.
“This trip should be ideal for Real Steel who is better going right-handed according to Ruby Walsh. I can’t wait to see how he gets on.”
Black Corton gives Nicholls a second string to his bow.
“He is a regular at Ascot and after a summer wind op he wasn’t as ready as most of ours when fourth in a handicap at this track under top weight three weeks ago,” he told Betfair.
“I thought he ran very well in the circumstances and will improve for it.
“This trip of two miles and five furlongs will be fine for Black Corton who is so genuine and doesn’t have to carry any penalties.
“Although he has a bit to find with a couple of these he is capable of running a big race. They will have to work very hard to get past him.”
Following his win in the Scilly Isles Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet was well fancied for the Arkle at the Festival but he was a relatively early casualty. He was third on his return in the Old Roan at Aintree.
“He’s in good form. We’re chucking him in at the deep end a little bit, but we’re happy with him and hopefully we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going after Saturday,” said Murphy.
Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura barely put a foot wrong on his return to action at Carlisle, but this represents a big step up in class.
Nicholls also holds a strong hand in the Coral Hurdle with another former Mullins inmate in the shape of Laurina.
However, while Real Steel moved stables on the back of arguably a career-best effort, Laurina now has plenty to prove having been beaten on her last three outings.
“She is a top-class mare who was sent to us this summer,” said Nicholls.
“Laurina had issues with breaking blood vessels last season and this looks a perfect starting point as she doesn’t have any penalties and with the mares allowance she gets weight from all her rivals.
“I’ve done a lot of hard, steady work with Laurina without galloping her too much and she looks amazing at the moment.
“While I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go very well I’m sure she will benefit from the run.”
Laurina faces just two rivals – Nicky Henderson’s Call Me Lord and the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone, last seen winning the Kingwell Hurdle in February.
“He improved from race-to-race last year, but he started rated 136 which unfortunately he’s not this year,” said Symonds.
“There’s a lot to look forward to with him, he’s in good form but it’s going to be tough. If the old Laurina turns up it’s going to be very tough.
“He’s there on merit and he’s run well over course and distance before and then went and won the Kingwell and in doing that he might have shown a dynamic I didn’t think he had, as I always viewed him as a two-and-a-half-miler.
“He’s still very young, we had the option of fences but he only turned five the day he won the Kingwell.
“Paul made it very clear when he got Laurina from Willie Mullins that it is going to be hard for her, she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Paul has already done well with the horses he’s got from Willie, but in the nicest possible sense I don’t think I’d like to get a horse from Willie Mullins – she’s been a fantastic horse.”