Paul Nicholls hopes Bravemansgame can come out on top in a cracking renewal of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.
Formerly the RSA Chase, this extended three-mile event has attracted a field of 11, and such is the strength of the Irish battalions over the four-day Festival, this is one of the few contests where horses from Britain dominate the market.
Bravemansgame, who was a Grade One-winning hurdler, heads the home team after making a seamless switch to fences this term, winning at Newton Abbot and Haydock in the autumn.
He then took the notable scalp of Ahoy Senor in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day before warming up for Cheltenham with a comfortable victory in a novices’ handicap chase, off a mark of 159, at Newbury.
Nicholls, who has previously won the Grade One with Star de Mohaison (2006), Denman (2007) and Topofthegame (2010), said: “He won really nicely at Newbury, but he wasn’t fully wound up by any stretch of the imagination.
“Running off that mark was setting him quite a stiff task, but good horses can do it.
“He looks great and I haven’t had to do a lot with him.
“He was quite weak and shelly last year, but he improved enormously for a summer at grass and I think he’s going to be even better next year when he’s got even stronger.
“I’d like to think next year this horse will be a serious contender for the King George and the Gold Cup – that’s what we’d be thinking.”
Ahoy Senor, who is trained by Lucinda Russell, beat Bravemansgame in the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, but had to give best at Kempton before returning to winning form at Wetherby last time.
Russell had toyed with the idea of waiting for Aintree rather than take on Bravemansgame again, but feels he has shown enough improvement to pose a serious threat at Cheltenham.
“He’s in fantastic heart and he’s just a super horse,” said Russell. “I think we overcooked him before Kempton, but we haven’t done that this time.
“He had a nice workout at Kelso last week and he had his last piece of work last Tuesday. Derek (Fox, jockey) had a nice smile on his face after that and I think everyone is very pleased with him ahead of next week.
“We’ve never been scared of taking the best horses on, as he’s a very good horse and his jumping is very mature.
“I think Bravemansgame was more of the finished article at Kempton than us but hopefully we’ve improved a bit since then.
“I think the course will be OK for him. It’s going to be up and down and a test, and that’s what it’s meant to be – the finest test of a novice.”
The Venetia Williams-trained L’Homme Presse produced an eyecatching performance in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, before following up with a wide-margin success the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase over a similar two-and-a-half-mile trip at Sandown.
That was his fourth successive win over fences and connections feel he will handle the step up to three miles without too much trouble, having opted not to take on Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs in Thursday’s shorter Turners Novices’ Chase.
Andy Edwards, who co-owns the gelding with his wife, Pam, and Peter and Patricia Pink under the DFA Racing banner, said: “We have said all along that the ground would dictate which race he would go for and it has nothing whatsoever to do with avoiding Irish-trained horses.
Unbeaten L’Homme Presse has winning form at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)
“Anyone who thinks that is talking rubbish. Racing is all about competition and we are not afraid to take on the Irish. It was simply that the ground will not be as soft as he would need for the shorter Turners, so we decided to run in the Brown Advisory.
“He won a Grade One by 21 lengths last time and has done nothing wrong. Venetia has him in great form and we are looking forward to it.”
Nicholls also saddles Threeunderthrufive who has won all four of his novice chase starts, including a pair of Grade Twos, since a runner-up effort on his debut over fences in October.
“You want a horse like him – it would be no surprise if he runs a really big race as he stays and jumps and that’s what you need,” said Nicholls.
“He’s a super horse. Next season he will be a horse to run in all the good staying races, in the Welsh National or something like that.
“On all known form, you couldn’t see him beating Bravemansgame. He just keeps on winning his races and if it turned out to be a bit of a slog and the ground was very testing, it would bring out the best in him.”
Gordon Elliott’s pair of Grade One winner Fury Road and Farouk D’alene feature in the Irish challenge along with Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge.
Willie Mullins, the most successful trainer in the race with five previous successes including last year’s renewal with Monkfish, relies on Gaillard Du Mesnil and Capodanno, while John McConnell saddles Streets of Doyen.
Dusart completes the line-up for Nicky Henderson. The seven-year-old will be having just his fifth career outing, having won one of two starts over hurdles and both his runs over fences.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: “There is no doubt it will help him going the other way round. I think a lot of people were surprised I went right-handed again (at Exeter) after his first effort.
“His first effort was rather bad luck as it was one of those days at Leicester where there were not really any fences down the back straight. So they galloped down the back straight and came up over the little hill around the bend, down the hill and then suddenly there was a fence. It was the last thing the poor horse was expecting. It was a good lesson.
“Nico (de Boinville, jockey) was very pleased with him at Exeter. It wasn’t that he needed a horse on the outside, he just needed company. He has been schooling a lot.”