Paul Nicholls fires a twin assault in his bid for a 10th victory in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.
It is 15 years since the Ditcheat handler first landed the prestigious handicap chase with Cornish Sett, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of Big Fella Thanks (2010), Pacha Du Polder (2013) and San Benedeto (2019).
Nicholls said: “The race fits in with the programme for horses that don’t go to Cheltenham and like nice ground, so we always like to have runners.
“It is good prize-money and a nice race to run in. I’m excited about the two I have in this year.”
The trainer’s chief contender appears to be Grand Sancy, who makes his handicap debut over fences in the hands of Bryony Frost.
An impressive winner of a Listed novice chase at Chepstow in October, the seven-year-old was disappointing when a hot favourite for the Grade Two Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton the following month and has not been seen since.
“He won impressively at Chepstow before a blip at Wincanton when he choked a little bit, and half-panicked after making a mistake on tacky ground,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“Basically his wind is fine and I’ve held him back for the spring because he can’t handle the type of deep mid-winter ground we’ve had over the past three months.
“We know Grand Sancy goes well fresh, he will relish the ground, the trip is right and his best form has been racing left-handed, so he has loads in his favour in a race we have farmed in recent times, with nine winners in 15 years.”
The other Nicholls-trained runner in a 14-strong field is top-weight Capeland, who will be ridden by Daryl Jacob.
“I’ve booked Daryl Jacob for Capeland as they got on so well together in victory two months ago at Wincanton,” the trainer added.
“While this horse can handle most types of ground, it is fair to say he is hard to place because he is on a stiff enough handicap mark.
“However, the flat nature of the course at Newbury is very much in his favour.”
David Pipe saddles Umbrigado, who is bidding to complete a hat-trick following wins at Fontwell and Wetherby since the turn of the year, while Emma Lavelle’s Killer Clown appears for the first time since scoring at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Lavelle said: “I’m really happy with him. It was a toss-up between running him here or waiting for the novices’ handicap chase at Sandown next weekend, but I know he wants nice ground and it looks like that is what we’re going to encounter at Newbury.
“He’s an improving horse and I think a lot of him, but he’s been heavily penalised for winning impressively at Kempton – he’s gone up 15lb.
“I’m looking forward to running him against more experienced rivals. His jumping has been good and hopefully he’s going the right way.”
Windsor Avenue is an interesting northern challenger for Brian Ellison.
The nine-year-old was runner-up to the top-class Imperial Aura on his first start of the season at Carlisle, and while he has failed to rediscover that form since, he is fitted with both a tongue-strap and cheekpieces for the first time this weekend.
Ellison said: “He was travelling well at Ascot last time, but he basically made a mistake and lost his confidence.
“He had his wind done last year and we’re putting a tongue-strap on him on Saturday to help him. He’s also wearing cheekpieces as he’s one of those that seems to look at other horses rather than concentrating on what he’s doing.
“Being quite honest, he looks fantastic, and I think the better ground will help him as well as he’s a horse with a lot of speed.”
Alan King’s Senior Citizen, the Nicky Henderson-trained Pistol Whipped and The Big Bite from Henry Oliver’s yard also feature.