Messrs’ Fry, Greatrex and Skelton have started the season incredibly well. There can be little doubt that these ‘up and coming’ trainers are sure to make a mark over the winter, mixing it with the more established top-guns.
Yet the weekend’s action probably announced a resumption of normal services, with a Paul Nicholls treble at Wincanton on Saturday, followed by a Willie Mullins treble at Navan on Sunday.
While Mullins was hitting the target with rather more established stable stars, Nicholls was revealing a more frightening hand to his opponents. Urubu D’Irlande was having only his third run since October 2012, yet proved too strong for Nicky Henderson’s much thought of novice hurdler, Gaitway. The winner looks every inch a chaser in the making, yet was able to keep up a relentless gallop, over a likely inadequate trip. He is some horse and has a very bright future.
Southfield Theatre was equally impressive and could take some beating over fences this winter. Admittedly he only had two other horses to beat, but his jumping was immaculate, and he simply galloped his opponents into the Wincanton turf. Nicholls looks to have a powerful team in the novice chase division. Saphir Du Rheu is yet to be unleashed and Ptit Zig is another expected to take high order over the larger obstacles.
Meanwhile at Sandown, Irish Saint was sent into battle, and the horse was equally impressive in beating Chris Pea Green. In his first attempt over fences, his jumping proved slick and accurate, and he had far too much speed for his more experienced adversary.
It could have been an even better day for the Champion trainer. Irving looked unfortunate when coming down in spectacular fashion at the last in the Elite Hurdle. He has a habit of ‘stepping’ at his hurdles, and it cost him dear on this occasion. Thankfully he looked to be none the worse for his frightening fall, and will look to get back on track in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle.
Despite the promising opening salvo from several fledgling trainers, it’s still interesting to see O’Neill, Hobbs, Pipe, Nicholls and McCain filling the top five spots in the Trainers Championship. A certain Nicky Henderson lies in seventh with an incredible 70 wins from just 128 runs. They may have started slowly, but it looks as if the time is now about right for the ‘top-dogs’ to start hitting the major targets.
Competition may be tougher than ever, but that’s unlikely to make much of a difference where Paul Nicholls is concerned.