Nicholls senses Frodon may be surprise package in Gold Cup

Paul Nicholls will not be surprised if Frodon throws a spanner in the works for hat-trick seeker Al Boum Photo in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

While acknowledging Willie Mullins’ reigning dual champion will be hard to beat, Nicholls feels his challenger can be relied upon to give it his best shot in what the trainer views as an open race, barring the favourite.

Frodon, who famously landed the 2019 Ryanair Chase under regular rider Bryony Frost, sprang a surprise when scuppering stablemate Clan Des Obeaux’s bid for a third King George on Boxing Day – proving conclusively he is Grade One class at three miles.

Having also won the Cotswold Chase two years ago and a Cheltenham handicap on his seasonal return, the trip and track hold no fears for Nicholls.

Frodon was a surprise King George winner
Frodon was a surprise King George winner (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He said: “Earlier this season he won a handicap off top-weight over three-mile-one, he’s won a King George – King George winners stay and do end up winning Gold Cups.

“He definitely wants a trip. We ran him in last year’s Ryanair, and he was completely outpaced all the way, (so) we decided this year we would stay over a longer trip. He’s in really good form, he worked beautifully this morning.

“He loves to be fresh and fit and he loves Cheltenham obviously – I think he’s won there six times. Often on the last day (of the Festival) the ground is decent, which would suit him.

“No one would expect him to win the Gold Cup – but if he did, I wouldn’t be surprised because he’s that sort of horse.

“He keeps surprising people. No one ever expected him to win a King George, but if you watch the replay, he won very cosily and was probably (running) the wrong way round.

“He’s in good shape – and you know whatever he does, he’s going to give a good account of himself.”

Al Boum Photo is seeking a third Gold Cup win
Al Boum Photo is seeking a third Gold Cup win (PA)
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Nicholls thinks the Gold Cup field is a closely-matched bunch if the favourite is taken out of the equation.

He said: “It’s very competitive. Last year’s winner is the one we’ve all got to beat – but I think after that, it’s very much of a muchness. A lot of the horses have beaten each other.

“We beat Santini in the King George, and Santini is a shorter price than us for the Gold Cup, which I don’t really get. Frodon is always underestimated a little bit, but he will give a good account of himself.

“Al Boum Photo has won the last two and is the one to beat. He’s the class act, but the rest are much of a muchness, and you could get many different results.

“We’re glad to be there and that the horse has got to this point – we’re just really looking forward to him running.”

Frodon was one of a dozen horses to enjoy a racecourse spin on Tuesday morning, with Nicholls explaining: “It was just a good day out for them really.

“It’s just something you fit into their workload – we always do it every year. Some horses need a gallop more than others – they didn’t really go and have a searching, hard gallop. It was just a day out, and it came together well.

“Politologue, Bravemansgame, Frodon, Real Steel, Houx Gris, Soldier Of Love – who probably wouldn’t go to Cheltenham – Barbados Bucks, Saint Sonnet, Amour De Nuit, Duc De Genievres, Storm Arising and Threeunderthrufive were the 12. They just had a lovely day out, and everyone was happy.

“Politologue loved bowling along in front. It was just a good day out for them.”

Politologue will be defending his Cheltenham crown
Politologue will be defending his Cheltenham crown (Simon Cooper/PA)

Politologue has become something of a standing dish at the Festival and finally enjoyed his moment in the spotlight when lifting the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase last year.

The 10-year-old landed the Tingle Creek first time out this term, but finished a leg-weary second to First Flow on testing ground in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase on his most recent run.

Nicholls said: “I love this race – it’s a fantastic race. I’ve been very lucky to have some fantastic horses win it.

“Politologue winning last year was fantastic for him and everybody connected with the horse.

“This is his sixth Festival, which is amazing really – and if you’d seen him gallop this morning, he was very impressive.”

Chacun Pour Soi leads the Champion Chase betting
Chacun Pour Soi leads the Champion Chase betting (PA)

Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi is a hot favourite after three effortless wins so far this term. But Nicholls, who also plans to field Greaneteen, will not duck a challenge.

He said: “Chacun Pour Soi looks very, very smart, but he has not run at Cheltenham before and has got to act on the track. If he does, he’ll undoubtedly be hard to beat, but you should never be afraid of one.”

Duc Des Genievres is also in the mix, and Nicholls added: “He won the Arkle two years ago and has run some tidy races this year. He’s just shy of being a Grade One horse, and we need to decide whether to run him in this or run him in the Grand Annual.”

Paul Nicholls with Bravemansgame on Tuesday
Paul Nicholls with Bravemansgame on Tuesday (David Davies/PA)

Nicholls has one of the leading lights for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in Bravemansgame, winner of the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle last time in fine style. His only defeat over hurdles came at the hands of Betfair Hurdle hero Soaring Glory on his debut.

The trainer said: “The Challow as a nice race to win, and he won very nicely that day.

“His form has been really progressive. At the start of the season he was beaten a neck by Jonjo’s (O’Neill) horse (Soaring Glory), who won the Betfair Hurdle – and I was impressed with him that day, because Harry (Cobden) could hardly pull him up afterwards and he ran green.

“With each run he’s got better and better, and this is the obvious race for him.

“He worked very nicely this morning, and I’m very happy with his preparation.”

Empty stands at Cheltenham earlier this season
Empty stands at Cheltenham earlier this season (David Davies/PA)

Nicholls’ only regret is that the Festival will be limited to essential personnel only on course as coronavirus restrictions remain in place.

He added: “It’s a great meeting. It’s a shame the crowd aren’t there and owners aren’t there, because it’s such a social occasion and means so much to so many people.

“The main thing is we’re racing, there’ll be a lot of people watching it – and the racing will be as competitive as normal.”

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