Brian Ellison’s Nietzsche is aiming for his own little piece of racing history should he win the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday.
Having already won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2018, he would become the first horse to land the two feature handicaps at Cheltenham’s November meeting.
Given the Greatwood has been won by a subsequent Champion Hurdle winner and the Paddy Power has been used as a springboard to the Gold Cup, it would be quite an achievement from Ellison to get a horse who has never been rated higher than 137 to win both.
Effective on the Flat, over hurdles and fences, Nietzsche was last seen running at Catterick on the level in October, when Ellison hopes he blew away any cobwebs.
“It would be some achievement if he can pull it off,” said Ellison.
“It’s obviously a tough, open race but he’s going there in good fettle.
“We know he likes Cheltenham, he’s won a Greatwood and ran well over fences there over two miles last December and he even ran well at the Festival over three miles when he just didn’t stay. He’s in good form.
“The ground looks like being beautiful so it shouldn’t be an excuse for anyone.
“He had a run at Catterick and that was just to sharpen him up. He worked well the other day so we just need a bit of luck now.”
Coole Cody returns to defend his crown off a 4lb higher mark, having dug deep to prevail under Tom O’Brien 12 months ago.
Trainer Evan Williams said: “He’s just a grand, grand horse. Of course it will be very difficult to go back and reproduce what he did last year, but he runs so well whenever he goes to Cheltenham and it’s just a joy to have a horse that has won a Paddy Power and is going back there to defend his crown.
“It’s great for a horse of his age to retain such enthusiasm for the job – he’s fantastic.”
Al Dancer has plenty of smart Cheltenham form and was third to Coole Cody last year.
Formerly a stalwart of the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard, the Dai Walters-owned grey is 5lb lower now and will be having his first start for Sam Thomas, who said: “I’m delighted to have such a nice horse and we couldn’t have been happier with his work.
“With a horse rated that high, if you wanted to run him a month or three weeks before there aren’t that many options, so we thought we’d go there fresh.
“He’s had a couple of away days and he’s not going to need the run. There’ll be no moaning afterwards about a lack of fitness, I don’t think.
“We’re optimistic as opposed to anything else as it’s obviously a tough ask in a big race like this, but we’re looking forward to it anyway.”
Protektorat was a course and distance winner as a novice and struck at Grade One level at the Aintree Grand National meeting.
Trainer Dan Skelton said: “We’ve had this race in mind ever since he came in. He has won around the track, it is worth a lot of money and it seemed a good starting point.
“I’m not worried I’ve not got a run into him as he has done loads at home and he has been on the grass gallop twice now so I’m happy. I’m looking forward to it.”
Al Dancer is not the only contender that has moved yards, as Simply The Betts and Lalor represent Paul Nicholls for the first time, having been with Harry Whittington and Kayley Woollacott respectively.
The champion trainer told Betfair: “Simply The Betts hasn’t raced for a year, but he had a wind op in the summer and he has done nothing but please since arriving in the yard. We took him to Exeter recently for a racecourse gallop and is as fit as I can get him without a run.
“I’m still learning about Simply The Betts who has smart form and finished sixth in this race a year ago. But he hasn’t run since and has top weight so he probably has it all to do.”
He added of Lalor: “We also gave him a wind op when he was sent to us and he has had a trouble-free prep for this race with lots of work, including an away day at Wincanton when he galloped with Politologue. He went nicely there, is very fit and well and ready to run for his life.
“Although he did have very good form in the past, he was pulled up on his last two starts so there are questions to answer. Lalor appears to be over his problems and looks fantastic, but he has to do it on the track now in a really competitive handicap.”
Fergal O’Brien is happy with Paint The Dream, who made a successful return at Chepstow last month in his first race since finishing third in the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February.
“I’m looking forward to him running but it’s a tough ask. He hasn’t been laid out for it and we don’t know how much mileage is left in his handicap mark but he goes there in great form,” he said.
“The ground will suit him and I think the race will suit him and it’s fingers crossed.”
Immediately behind Paint The Dream at Chepstow was the Emma Lavelle-trained Manofthemountain.
Lavelle said: “He’s definitely tightened up for that run and he’s in great order.”
“The idea had been to go for the Grand Sefton at Aintree last weekend, but the ground was just too soft for him. It’s all about jumping round Cheltenham and that’s one thing that he absolutely loves doing. He’s a great traveller, he ran against Frodon there over three-miles-one last year and they were neck and neck, but he just didn’t get home.
“I think two and a half miles is much more his trip and we’re looking forward to it.”