Nicholls ‘thrilled’ with Hermes Allen chasing debut

Hermes Allen made a fine start to his career over fences with a smooth success in the Coral John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury.

The six-year-old looked a top-class prospect after striking Grade One gold in the Challow Hurdle at the Berkshire track late last year but was unable to replicate that form in the spring after being sent off favourite for both the Ballymore at Cheltenham and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Having undergone wind surgery during the off-season, the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding was the 13-8 market leader for his reappearance and chasing bow and ultimately got the job done in convincing fashion.

The keen-going Nickle Back took the six-strong field along for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey and looked to have the chasing pack in trouble rounding the home turn, with Harry Cobden having to ask Hermes Allen a question or two to close the gap.

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However, Nickle Back’s earlier exertions began to take their toll halfway up the straight and Hermes Allen soon took his measure before stretching six and a half lengths clear.

“It was a proper race today, which you’d expect, and I’m thrilled with that. He jumped well, travelled well, learnt a lot and galloped on well,” Nicholls told Racing TV.

“Harry was thrilled with him, he said he was very clever jumping, especially late on, and that’s just what you want from a novice chaser first time.

“I’ve said quite openly, we missed a month’s work with him and I’ve been chasing my tail to get him ready, to be honest. It’s only a fortnight ago that I thought we’d get here, luckily we were able to gallop him here on the gallops morning, he’s schooled well and we’ve just about got away with it.

“He will improve fitness-wise, but he’s just got natural ability. His form in the first half of last season was very good, then he lost his way a bit, but he was struggling with his breathing all season and I think that caught up with him in the spring. He’s the finished article now.”

Hermes Allen was a decisive winner
Hermes Allen was a decisive winner (David Davies/PA)

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The Ditcheat handler now faces a quandary over how best to campaign what appears a particularly strong team of novice chasers in the staying division.

He said: “The idea is that Stay Away Fay runs at Sandown next week (Esher Novices’ Chase) and Knappers Hill is going to go to Kempton (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day). I was thinking this horse would go for the Dipper on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, but that’s gone now, so we’ll have to come up with something else.

“I don’t want to run them against each other at the moment. We’ll have to in the spring, but at the moment it’s pointless really.

“Whether I go to Cheltenham in a fortnight’s time with this horse over two-and-a-half and then leave him for the Scilly Isles (at Sandown in February), that could be a possibility.”

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