I make no apologies for once again banging on about how impressive Paul Nicholls is as a trainer. Seasons come and go, yet the outcome of significant races is rarely in doubt.
Ptit Zig made it seven wins from the last eight for the Champ in Down Royal’s Powers Irish Whiskey Chase. It’s an amazing record in an event that takes place at such an early stage of the season. And the trainer was at it again yesterday, when scooping another decent prize at Exeter, thanks to Vibrato Valtat’s victory in the Haldon Gold Cup Chase.
Fresh from a successful novice campaign, the youngest horse in a five runner field cruised to an impressive win. He would have won by further than four lengths had he not made such a mess of the last fence. Nicholls will be hopeful of considerable improvement from the six-year-old son of Voix Du Nord, who appears to have a liking for testing conditions.
He was slightly disappointing at the end of last season on livelier ground when fourth at Cheltenham in the Arkle before a second to Clarcam at Aintree. He was then thrown in at the deep end when fourth again, this time in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown. That was his ninth outing of an incredibly busy campaign. With another summer on his back he looks capable of taking high order this winter.
Yesterday’s winning jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies, was clearly impressed when after the win he said: “This was a good starting point for the season and Paul had this in mind for him from the back end of last season. Bar the last he jumped well and did everything right. He's got a similar profile to Dodging Bullets coming into this season. He might end up going straight to the Tingle Creek and take on Dodger, but they're both good horses and deserve to take their chances.”
One major disappointment of the race was ex-champion two mile chaser Sire De Grugy. He faded badly in the latter stages though is sure to strip fitter next time. He clobbered the fourth fence and was giving a hefty 10lbs to the winner, but jockey Jamie Moore wasn’t looking for excuses when saying: “I'm gutted, but the simple fact of the matter is he is not as good as he once was. He had a couple of good seasons but he is now nine years old. Whereas before he would wing his fences, today he was laboured.” It was a typically honest assessment from Moore, though there’s just a chance it may prove a hasty one.
God’s Own took the race last year but was a well beaten third this time. Tom George’s charge would undoubtedly have preferred a sounder surface and will remain competitive when conditions suit.
As for the winner, who knows how far he could go? Dodging Bullets progressed throughout the last campaign and took the major prize at Cheltenham. With Un De Sceaux lurking in the distance it looks to be a tougher division this time round. However, with Paul Nicholls at the helm anything is possible.