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Cyrname out to reclaim Ascot title

Cyrname seeks to bounce back to his brilliant best as he bids for a second victory in the Betfair Ascot Chase.

Paul Nicholls’ nine-year-old became the highest-rated chaser in Britain thanks to his 17-length demolition in the Grade One contest in 2019, a position he consolidated when he got the better of Altior in a much-anticipated clash over the same course and distance early last season.

However, he subsequently failed to fire when hot favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and was already on the retreat when suffering a heavy fall at the final fence in defence of his Ascot Chase crown 12 months ago.

Cyrname returned with victory this season on his Charlie Hall Chase comeback at Wetherby in October – but having disappointed once more in the King George when pulled up on his latest appearance, he again has a point to prove on Saturday.

Cyrname on his way to victory over Altior at Ascot
Cyrname on his way to victory over Altior at Ascot (Simon Cooper/PA)

Nicholls told Betfair: “Harry Cobden has chosen to ride Cyrname, who looked so good at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase before running way below expectations in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. He was half-asleep at the start that day and was never really travelling in behind horses.

“Harry felt Cyrname was sulking at Kempton, so we are trying cheekpieces to sharpen him up. When we tried them on him at home a week ago they had a positive effect and certainly woke him up. If they work as well at Ascot then he has to have a big chance over a trip and track that play to his strengths.”

Cobden is relishing the opportunity to get back on board Cyrname, whom he describes as “the horse of a lifetime”.

“When he won the race a couple of years ago, he was very, very good,” said the jockey.

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“It was the best performance of any horse I’ve ever ridden around a racecourse – the way he jumped and travelled and beat all those good horses like Politologue, Waiting Patiently and Fox Norton. It was phenomenal, (and) I suppose that’s where he got his rating of 176.

“He’s the horse of a lifetime. Not very many people, riders or trainers, have horses like that come along in their life.

“I’ve won various races with him ,and hopefully he hasn’t won his last one – I’m sure he’s got plenty more in the tank.”

Master Tommytucker is a strong second contender for Paul Nicholls
Master Tommytucker is a strong second contender for Paul Nicholls (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nicholls has an interesting second string to his bow in the form of Master Tommytucker, who will be ridden for the first time by Daryl Jacob.

The lightly-raced 10-year-old has not always convinced in the jumping department, but has got his act together this season to win three of his last four starts.

Nicholls added: “I’ve always rated him highly, and he has earned a shot at this Grade One level after some impressive performances this season. He is in serious order at home, working great, looks amazing – and everything is in place for a big run.

“While his jumping in the past was an issue, it was very good at Haydock and Cheltenham earlier in the season – and he was foot-perfect at Kempton last time, bar one blemish at the last fence.”

Jeremy Scott is looking forward to seeing how Dashel Drasher handles a step up in class.

The eight-year-old was a long way behind Master Tommytucker at Haydock in November, but has since registered back-to-back wins over this course and distance.

Dashel Drasher steps up in class but knows what it takes to win at Ascot
Dashel Drasher steps up in class but knows what it takes to win at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’m relishing running him, because he seems well and he’s on a roll at the moment,” said Scott.

“His jumping is a lot better now, and he’s in rude health.

“First time out at Haydock, I think it was partly the ground and partly we rode him too conservatively – he’s proved the last twice that he suits being ridden positively. He was returning from an injury at Haydock, and we were a bit mindful of that.”

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Riders Onthe Storm ran out a wide-margin winner of last year’s renewal, but will defend his crown as an outsider after being well beaten in both his outings this season.

Twiston-Davies is undeterred, however.

Riders Onthe Storm is looking to repeat last year's victory
Riders Onthe Storm is looking to repeat last year’s victory (Julian Herbert/PA)

He said: “Riders Onthe Storm is coming into this in good nick. He obviously won the race last year, and we are hoping he can do it again.

“He hasn’t been at the same level this season, but he does seem in really good nick at the moment and should improve on what he has done.

“He won’t mind any more rain, because it was pretty testing last year.”

Bennys King from Dan Skelton’s yard, runner-up to Dashel Drasher last time, completes the line-up.

Carlisle delight for Henry Brooke with winning return

Henry Brooke is looking forward to the rest of the season and beyond after making a successful return from almost four months on the sidelines at Carlisle on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the north’s leading riders in recent seasons, enjoying big-race success aboard Highland Lodge in the Becher Chase at Aintree, Lake View Lad in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby and Cornerstone Lad in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

However, Brooke has been a frustrated spectator since early November, having broken three vertebrae in his neck and two in his back when suffering a schooling fall at Oliver Greenall’s yard in Cheshire.

He said: “It’s felt like an age, to be honest.

“I did three vertebrae in my neck and two in my back. They were all compression fractures, which isn’t too bad, although one in my neck was a bit touch and go. Luckily, it all worked out well.

“I had a solid brace on for seven weeks and then a soft collar on for another three weeks after that.

“I’ve been in great hands with Dr Jerry Hill of the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and all of my recovery is down to the people at Jack Berry House – I can’t praise everyone that helped me enough.”

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Having finished sixth on his comeback ride earlier in the day, Brooke got back in the winning groove aboard the Mark Walford-trained Miss Amelia in the Racing TV Handicap Chase.

After taking over the lead between the final two fences, the 15-2 chance found plenty for pressure on the run-in to score by two and a quarter lengths from Pistol Park.

“Today was the main aim – to come back. To come out of it with a winner, I’m absolutely on cloud nine,” Brooke added.

“I took a blow on my first ride, but when you’re in with a chance of winning you find the strength – and to be fair to the mare, she’s very gutsy and helped me all the way to the line.

“No jockey likes being off – it’s an absolute nightmare watching horses win that you would have rode, but I’m looking to the future now and hopefully I can get myself a couple of nice winners before the end of the season.”

Brooke was also keen to pay tribute to British event rider Matthew Wright, who died earlier this week, saying: “Matthew was a really good event rider and I was good friends with him. My condolences go out to his family at this tough time.”

Donald McCain is in no rush to make any grand plans for the unbeaten Dreams Of Home following an impressive display in division one of the Watch Irish Racing On Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.

A winner on his only start in the Irish point-to-point field last autumn, the son of Jet Away made a flying start for his new connections when scoring by 12 lengths on his hurdling debut at Wetherby last month.

The five-year-old was the 4-5 favourite to follow up in the hands of champion jockey Brian Hughes and was ultimately well on top as he passed the post with almost four lengths in hand over promising newcomer Royal Arcade.

McCain said: “He’s a nice horse. We’ve no great big plans. We’re going to go quietly with him as he’s every inch a chaser.

“I’m sure he’ll run once more, but he won’t run a lot more this season, I don’t think.”

Harry Cobden (left) and Paul Nicholls enjoyed a Carlisle winner
Harry Cobden (left) and Paul Nicholls enjoyed a Carlisle winner (David Davies/PA)

Harry Cobden was pleased to break his Carlisle duck aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained Highland Hunter.

A rare runner at the Cumbrian circuit for the multiple champion trainer, the 11-8 favourite made the 600-mile round trip from Somerset worthwhile with a neck success in the Introducing Racing TV Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Cobden said: “I’ve ridden here a couple of times before and thankfully we’ve come away with a winner today.

“It was Paul’s only runner of the day. I just think it was the right race for him, with only five runners – Paul just saw an opportunity that couldn’t be missed really.

“He’s a real stayer who handled the testing ground well and managed to get the job done.”

Conditional jockey Kevin Brogan enjoyed a double on the afternoon with wins aboard the Ben Pauling-trained Apple Rock (4-1) and Daragh Bourke’s Evita Du Mesnil (9-2).

Cobden keeps faith in Cyrname’s Ascot class

Harry Cobden is backing Cyrname to revisit his impressive winning performance in the 2019 Betfair Ascot Chase when he contests this season’s renewal of the race.

Cyrname was a facile 17-length winner of Saturday’s Grade One for Paul Nicholls two years ago, leaving high-class horses such as Waiting Patiently and Politologue in his wake and earning himself a mark of 176 – as Britain’s highest-rated jumps horse.

His 2020 title defence ended with a shuddering fall when already well beaten by Riders Onthe Storm, but he looked as good as ever as he cruised to victory in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October.

Kempton’s King George VI Chase was the next port of call, in which Cobden’s mount was below par and pulled up as stablemate Frodon instead stormed to victory.

Cobden is consequently keen to take a different approach this weekend and plans to keep the nine-year-old among the leading group from the outset in a race for which there were 10 confirmations on Monday – including another from Nicholls’ powerhouse yard, Master Tommytucker, and also Riders Onthe Storm.

In a call hosted by Great British Racing, Cobden said: “I think we might adopt slightly different tactics in that we might ride him slightly more aggressively.

“We don’t necessarily have to make it (the running), but I don’t really want an episode of Kempton last time.

“I wasn’t very happy with my position the whole way round, because I was probably too far back. I made a bit of a move, but I was too wide – although I didn’t have any other option – so I had to go round a few horses in front of me.

“He winged the ditch, he jumped it very well, and then he missed the last fence down the back – and that was our race over.

Cyrname also took the measure of the mighty Altior in last season's Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot
Cyrname also took the measure of the mighty Altior in last season’s Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot (PA)
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“I didn’t really want to carry on for the sake of carrying on, (so) we just pulled him up and saved him for another day.”

Cyrname appeared slightly reluctant at the start in the King George.

Cobden added: “I had the perfect position down at the start, but Cyrnname wasn’t that keen to jump off for some reason – I couldn’t tell you why.

“I was slow away and jumped the first quite slowly – and before you know it, we were sixth or seventh, too far out the back.

“He just didn’t really feel to me like he wanted to go. But he came out of the race absolutely bouncing – and he went into the race bouncing – and we couldn’t find anything wrong with him afterwards.”

While Cyrname is bidding to bounce back from that disappointment, Nicholls’ Master Tommytucker was most impressive when last seen claiming Kempton’s Grade Two Silviniaco Conti Chase by an emphatic 12 lengths.

That form provided Cobden with something of a headache when it came to picking his mount this weekend, but he has opted to stick with Cyrname and his solid course-and-distance form.

“Going into the race, he is obviously the one to beat on paper – looking at the entries it’s quite a competitive little race,” he said.

“Paul runs Master Tommytucker, and there are quite a few other good horses. So by no means is it an easy race – but I think Cyrname is the worthy favourite.

“If Master Tommytucker turned up and absolutely blew them away it wouldn’t surprise me – he’s got a serious engine in there.

“If he gets in a good rhythm and he starts jumping well and everything’s going his way, he’ll be very hard to pass.

“Paul’s always said it, and I totally agree, there is a massive race in that horse at some stage this season.

“Whether it’s on Saturday, I don’t know, but I think he will turn up and win a Grade One shortly.”

Master Tommytucker is also on course to represent Paul Nicholls on Saturday
Master Tommytucker is also on course to represent Paul Nicholls on Saturday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

That potential gave Cobden much to ponder before he chose Cyrname this weekend.

“It was quite a tough decision, actually,” he said.

“(But) the thing is, Cyrname’s been to Ascot and he’s done it.

“If he turns up with three-quarters of the ability he had when he won there two years ago, he’s going to be hard to pass.

“I’m a believer and I’m confident he’s going to turn up and run his race.

Colin Tizzard's Lostintranslation may prove another tough opponent this weekend
Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation may prove another tough opponent this weekend (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“He’s going there in tip-top condition and hopefully he can give us a bit of a showdown and reproduce what he did two years ago.”

On the ratings, Cyrname’s toughest opponent is the Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation – who will be dropping down in trip if he runs on Saturday.

Winner of last season’s Betfair Chase, Lostintranslation was only narrowly beaten in the Gold Cup in March but was a distant third in his Betfair defence in November – and once again failed to run his race in the King George.

As well as Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Riders Onthe Storm, Cyrname may again face Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados – a close second in last year’s Ryanair Chase and fourth in the King George, before unseating Gavin Sheehan in the rearranged Cotswold Chase at Sandown.

Bennys King, Dashel Drasher, Fanion D’Estruval, Kalashnikov and Terrefort complete the list.

Miranda blossoms in Yorkshire Rose heat

Miranda enjoyed returning to a galloping track to take the Grade Two honours in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster.

Only fourth on a sharper track at Musselburgh, the Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old was much more at home on Town Moor’s wide-open spaces and put that to good effect to see off the opposition in style.

The early pace was set by Sopat until Nico De Boinville made his move at the top of the straight on Floressa to ensure a decent end-of-race test.

However, Miranda (3-1) was soon in his slipstream and, leading approaching the final flight, she stuck to her task well to score by four and a quarter lengths from Floressa in the hands of Harry Cobden.

The pair drew 18 lengths clear of the staying-on Marie’s Rock in third place.

“She’s been a consistent mare and obviously the weights there were quite favourable,” said Nicholls’ assistant Harry Derham.

“Last time we thought she was just flat out round Musselburgh, but today a big, galloping track and slower ground suited her absolutely perfectly. She’s done it really nicely.

“It’s important for those nice mares to get some black type and a Grade Two win like that is great for her. And it’s fantastic for the Owners Group.”

Miranda could run next in the Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on February 20.

“If the ground is soft, we might run her in the Kingwell Hurdle,” said Derham.

Whether Miranda will run at the Cheltenham Festival is up in the air.

“Whether or not she’ll go the Festival, I’m not sure,” he added.

Harry Cobden takes over on Politologue at Ascot

Harry Cobden will be back aboard Politologue in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday, after Harry Skelton agreed to relinquish the ride.

Skelton steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to victory in both the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last season and the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.

However, Skelton is set to have a clash of interests when it comes to this year’s Champion Chase in March. He is stable jockey to his brother Dan and they have a leading contender in Nube Negra, who defeated Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton last month.

Harry Skelton celebrates winning the Champion Chase with Politologue
Harry Skelton celebrates winning the Champion Chase with Politologue (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Skeltons, and their father, Olympic showjumper Nick, are long-standing friends of Politologue’s owner John Hales. They are believed to have discussed the matter, resulting in Skelton giving up the ride.

Nicholls confirmed to the PA news agency Cobden will be back in the plate for Politologue’s last race before he defends his Champion Chase crown.

Cobden has ridden Politologue six times, winning the Tingle Creek in 2017 and finishing second to Altior in the Champion Chase in 2019.

Politologue is the 5-4 favourite with Coral for the Ascot feature, ahead of King George third Waiting Patiently at 5-2.

Coral’s David Stevens said: “Politologue gave Harry Skelton his biggest win when the pair won last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but it will be Harry Cobden on board the grey this weekend and at the Cheltenham Festival, although Harry Skelton still has a chance of winning the race again this March, with Nube Negra one of the leading contenders at 10-1.”

Next Destination comes out on top in Hampton test

Next Destination maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a tenacious success in the McCoy Contractors Civils And Infrastructure Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Having made a winning chase debut in a Grade Two at Newbury in November, the Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old added to that with victory at the same level in the three-mile contest.

Despite being the first off the bridle midway down the back straight, the 10-11 favourite responded well for pressure under Harry Cobden to take a slender advantage turning for home.

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As Golan Fortune dropped away on the run to the last, it was left to Fiddlerontheroof to thrown down a challenge, but the Colin Tizzard-trained runner old could not quite get on terms, with a length and a half separating the pair at the line.

Cobden said: “He is a little bit more relaxed now and when he has been asked he has jumped pretty well. He has jumped well on the whole.

“He is a bit older and is getting slightly lazier. I don’t mind pushing them for a bit if they keep finding and to be honest he plugged on really well. He swung into the straight and was the one to be shot at. He was long over two out and winged the last and stayed galloping.

“I think in a race where there are more runners you could run him third or fourth and it would be nice to have one to aim at with him. He looks like he stays very well and he has won here and at Newbury so the trip is not an issue.

“I’d say both were good races and he has come out and performed both times, so you have got to be pleased with him.”

Although Next Destination was made a 14-1 chance for what was known as the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival by William Hill and 12-1 for the same race by Coral, Cobden believes the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree could be a more suitable option.

He added: “I don’t known if he is an RSA horse. The three-mile race at Aintree might suit him. Paul might get him home tonight and think RSA it is, or say ‘right, we will take our time and go for Aintree’.

“One thing I do know is the be all and end all is not Cheltenham in Paul’s mind, so Aintree is on the cards.”

Golan Fortune seeking to book National ticket with big Warwick effort

Golan Fortune will attempt to enhance his Randox Health Grand National prospects by claiming victory in the McCoy Contractors Civils And Infrastructure Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Saturday.

The seven-year-old bids to resume his progression over fences in the three-mile Grade Two prize – and move a step closer to giving trainer Phil Middleton his first runner in the Aintree spectacular.

Having made a winning debut over fences at Ludlow last month, Golan Fortune out-ran his 40-1 price tag upped to Grade One level when finishing fourth in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Middleton said: “If he does run a big race I would like to go for the Grand National.

“He is off 142 at the moment and you need to be about 145 to get in, so hopefully the handicapper would put him up a few pounds if he goes well.

“He has won and finished in the first four of a race over three miles and this will be his third three-mile chase run, which qualifies him for the Grand National.

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“I had Exitas miss the cut a few years ago for the National and I might not get another chance for a runner in it, so I’d like to go for it.”

Middleton reports his stable star, who claimed Listed glory over hurdles at Cheltenham last season, to be in excellent order.

He said: “I was chuffed to bits at Kempton and he will be better for that. We go there full of hope.

“When you look at the ratings he has not got a lot to find with Next Destination and the horse he beat at Newbury (Kalooki) was behind us at Kempton, while Fiddlerontheroof has been second a good few times.

“Kielan Woods is full of hope, he popped him over a few obstacles this week and he jumped fantastic.”

Next Destination will attempt to maintain his unbeaten record over fences after making a winning debut over them at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
Next Destination will attempt to maintain his unbeaten record over fences after making a winning debut over them at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jockey Harry Cobden is confident dual Grade One-winning hurdler Next Destination will have no problem handling the testing conditions.

The nine-year-old secured his first victory since joining Paul Nicholls from Willie Mullins when making a winning debut over fences in a Grade Two at Newbury.

Cobden said: “It was his first time over fences last time and he jumped really well and travelled great. He did everything right.

“The ground was better at Newbury, but that shouldn’t make much of a difference at Warwick as he won on quite testing ground over in Ireland.

“I schooled him on Monday and he was fine. He seems great at the moment. He has lots of class for sure.”

Fiddlerontheroof will step up to three miles for the first time under rules (David Davies/PA)
Fiddlerontheroof will step up to three miles for the first time under rules (David Davies/PA)

Connections of the Colin Tizzard-trained Fiddlerontheroof expect the step up in trip to suit the seven-year-old, who has filled the runner-up spot on three of his four starts over fences this season.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “Stepping him up to three miles is something we have had on the back of our mind for some time, and he looks like he wants every yard of it.

“He has been consistent all season long, he has lost nothing in defeat – he has just come up against some decent horses.

“This looks the right race to run him in and I think Warwick will suit him as he is a very good jumper of his fences. He has just got to prove he gets the trip and if he does he will be right there.”

McFabulous back on winning form with Relkeel success

McFabulous stamped his class on the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton.

The Grade Two bumper winner was disappointing on his first couple of starts over obstacles last winter, but having got his act together in the new year with wins at Market Rasen and in the EBF Final at Kempton, he made a successful return in October’s Persian War at Chepstow.

The seven-year-old’s winning run came to an end in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury the following month, but he was far from disgraced in finishing third behind the top-class pair of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park, and he was the 10-11 favourite to land this Grade Two prize, rescheduled from Cheltenham’s abandoned New Year’s Day card.

There were a few worrying moments for his supporters during the early stages, with a couple of untidy leaps putting McFabulous on the back foot and briefly taking him to the rear of the field under Harry Cobden.

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But the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding made stealthy headway racing down the back straight and eased clear in the end – passing the post with just over two lengths in hand over On The Blind Side.

Nicholls said: “This trip (two and a half miles) suits him. He will have an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, just in case it falls apart or something, but I guess I’d nearly keep him fresh for Aintree. I think Aintree over two and a half would suit him well.

“A fresh, flat track would suit him as well. We might then look at Sandown on the last day of the season as there is a lovely race for him there over two-five, then we can go chasing in the autumn as that is his job.

“We tried the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and he wasn’t beaten far, but I’m not convinced I want to give him a hard race against those horses at this stage of his career if he is going to be a super chaser.

“I see him as an ideal horse for the Kauto Star (Novices’ Chase, at Kempton) next season.”

Of more immediate plans, he added: “You could look at the National Spirit Hurdle as it is a valuable race, but it is usually desperate ground and I wouldn’t be keen to run him.

“If we go to Aintree we could do that. I will talk to the boys. They are keen to have an entry for Stayers’ Hurdle, but it doesn’t convince me after Newbury. I think Aintree would be really good for him.

“He has got loads of natural speed and ability. He has come back in the winner’s enclosure with his tail in the air and it hardly looked like he had a race.”

Thomas Darby ran with credit in defeat
Thomas Darby ran with credit in defeat (Mike Egerton/PA)

Olly Murphy was delighted with third-placed Thomas Darby, saying: “He ran an absolute cracker and is crying out for three miles.

“It was a very encouraging run. He missed three out, but he was travelling well throughout the race.

“I was desperate to run him at Leopardstown over Christmas, but we couldn’t get there for one reason or another.

“The three-mile Grade One at Aintree will be his ultimate aim, as opposed to the Stayers’ Hurdle. There was a lot of positives to take out of that.”

Bravemansgame rises to Challow challenge

Bravemansgame continued his surge up the ranks with a very impressive victory in the MansionBet Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Several very good horses have won the Grade One down the years – including subsequent Gold Cup winner Denman, trained just like Bravemansgame by Paul Nicholls.

An easy winner over course and distance last time out, the five-year-old faced a different calibre of opponent this time – but Harry Cobden was keen to make it a real test from the outset.

The 5-2 joint-favourite was soon in an early lead – with Does He Know, who was helping to keep him honest, a casualty down the back straight when he ran out on the approach to a hurdle.

Star Gate, Evan Williams’ fellow market leader, and Alan King’s The Glancing Queen both appeared to be going well three out – but every time they looked close enough to challenge, Cobden let out a bit more rein in front.

On the approach to the last it became obvious the winner was in front, and he pulled an impressive 10 lengths clear of Star Gate.

The winner has shortened to 6-1 from 12s for the Ballymore with Betfair, while the same firm make him 16-1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett.

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Nicholls was completing a treble on the card and needs just one more winner to reach his century for the season, before New Year’s Day.

“Denman won the Challow,” he said.

“He is the same sort of big, scopey horse that will make a chaser.

“This one has probably got a little more boot than Denman had. He is a hard horse to follow, but he is going the right way. He has got it all. It just shows you that now he has grown up he doesn’t mind that ground.

“He will go to the Ballymore. It is just whether we give him one run beforehand or not – we will see.

“I won’t run  him on trials day. If we did (run again) we will look for a soft race as part of his preparation, or we would go straight there.

“He will get three miles in time, but we don’t need to do that at the moment because he’s got plenty of speed – but the Supreme would be far too sharp for him. The Ballymore is the obvious race to run him in.”

Nicholls had not won this race since Denman almost 15 years ago, in a renewal re-routed to Cheltenham that winter, so it was no surprise his name kept on cropping up.

“It is hard to draw comparisons with Denman, because he was a superstar, but at the same stage of his career he is heading that way,” he added.

“I really could see him being a lovely chaser. He is a relentless galloper that jumps well and does everything nicely. He will definitely be a better chaser.

“He wasn’t cheap, but if you look at all those horse that have been winning at Leopardstown the last few days they have all cost fortunes. If you want good horses you have got to be prepared to pay for them.

Bravemansgame clears the last in style
Bravemansgame clears the last in style (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Tom Malone (bloodstock agent) and I liked him as an individual at the sales. He was a big, scopey chasing type of horse that I would call ‘my sort of horse’ that just needed time. He is a lovely horse.

“Harry loves him and he is a very nice horse. Those novice hurdles are hard to win, and Denman got beat there (as a novice hurdler at the Cheltenham Festival).

“The Irish will have some good horses to run in it, but it is exciting to go to Cheltenham with him.”

Cobden said: “That is the best novice we have got. He travels, he jumps and he does everything right. He is straightforward. He is not lazy, and he just makes my job very easy.

“To be fair we didn’t go that quick, but we quickened up well. He is probably not as slow as I thought he was. I wouldn’t call him an idle horse, but he doesn’t do loads in front.

“The last three he has come down to each hurdle and pricked his ears. He has come out of my hands at the second last. He gives himself a chance.

“I think he goes well left-handed. Cheltenham is obviously undulating, but all the others have got to do it as well.

“He is probably, looking at it now, my best chance of getting a winner at the Festival I would say. In the decent Graded races, and I know it’s early doors, he would be the best chance I have going into it.”

Rainyday Woman impresses in Huntingdon victory

Rainyday Woman proved a cut above her rivals in the Fitzdares Club Adores Henrietta Knight Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race to form the highlight of a Huntingdon double for Paul Nicholls.

Having made a winning debut for the 11-times champion trainer at Stratford last month, the imposing five-year-old had little problem in following up, running out a decisive winner of the Listed prize.

Prominently-ridden throughout, the 7-2 joint-favourite galloped on strongly all the way to the line under Nicholls’ daughter, Megan, before scoring by three and a half lengths.

Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “Megan felt like she had improved from Stratford and it looked like she had at home.

“I think the fact she is a big, strong mare in those conditions suited well as she stays very well.

“Meg was a bit concerned she did a fraction too much for the first mile, but I’d say she has a good level of ability.”

Rainyday Woman is likely to wait until next season before having her attentions switched to hurdles, according to Derham.

He added: “I suspect we will stick to bumpers for this season. You could either go to the Listed bumper at Sandown or the Grade Two at Aintree for girls.

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“She will be one to really look forward to in mares’ novice hurdles next season.”

Silent Revolution completed a brace for both Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden after landing the Fitzdares Wishes Everyone A Merry Christmas Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race by a short head.

Derham said of the 11-10 favourite: “He is a nice horse, but he wouldn’t want the ground that deep.

“He got done for a bit of toe turning in, but he showed a fantastic attitude for a young horse to stay on like that and get back up.”

Premiumaccess and Harry Cobden clear the last
Premiumaccess and Harry Cobden clear the last (Tim Goode/PA)

Grade One-winning rider Cobden got off the mark aboard the Colin Tizzard-trained Premiumaccess, who opened his account under rules in the Google The Fitzdares Club Right Now Novices’ Handicap Chase, which the 17-2 shot claimed by a length.

Cobden said: “Last night I thought he would win as I schooled him the other week at the Tizzards.

“He has always shown he is a nice horse and he does work well, but he jumps exceptionally well.

“I thought today if he didn’t win off 110 I didn’t know anything about racing.”

Eclair De Guye and Bryony Frost clear the last before going on to win the Fitzdares Fancies Goose Over Turkey Handicap Chase
Eclair De Guye and Bryony Frost clear the last before going on to win the Fitzdares Fancies Goose Over Turkey Handicap Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

Bryony Frost and Lucy Wadham struck gold together for the second time in three days following the nine-and-a-half-length victory secured by Eclair De Guye (6-1) in the Fitzdares Fancies Goose Over Turkey Handicap Chase.

Frost said: “He took a bit of time to warm up, but down the back he really started to jump.

“He made some good ground then and over the last mile he really started to operate.

“I enjoyed trying to work out what the best thing to do with him was and get him on my side.”

On the link up with Wadham, she added: “Leighton Aspell helped me loads with the first couple of rides and as he has now retired Lucy wanted a jockey.

“Her owners seemed to like me, thankfully, and the relationship has started to build.

“She is brilliant to work with.”

Zhiguli and Niall Houlihan (right) on the way to winning the Fitzdares Thanks Lily O’Shea This Christmas Handicap Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)
Zhiguli and Niall Houlihan (right) on the way to winning the Fitzdares Thanks Lily O’Shea This Christmas Handicap Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

Niall Houlihan received an early Christmas present when eclipsing his previous best seasonal total of seven winners with a four-length victory aboard Zhiguli (5-2) in the Fitzdares Thanks Lily O’Shea This Christmas Handicap Hurdle.

Houlihan said of the Gary Moore-trained winner: “That’s eight winners for the season, which is great.

“There was no set target – just to ride as many winners as I could. I’m just happy to have beaten last year’s total.”

Mister Malarky provides timely boost for Tizzard

Mister Malarky provided the Colin Tizzard yard with a much-needed pre-Christmas tonic when returning to winning ways in the Good Luck Hollie In SPOTY Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot.

Winners have not been flowing with their usual fluency from the stable in the first half of the season – which must have been hard to fathom, given their understandable optimism as the campaign began.

Mister Malarky had shown little since winning a valuable handicap at Kempton in February, but he has always had plenty of ability.

To the fore throughout under Harry Cobden, with retained rider Robbie Power in action at Haydock, he barely put a foot wrong.

When joined late on by The Conditional and Ascot specialist Regal Encore, Mister Malarky (16-1)  pulled out more to score by a length and three-quarters from David Bridgwater’s Cheltenham Festival winner.

Cobden told ITV Racing: “Things haven’t quite been going right for them (the Tizzard stable) in the early part of this year, but this lad has gone and won.

“I’ve had plenty of success for them in the past. But of late Robbie (Power) has been riding them, so to win on this lad today is great.

“He’s enjoyed it, travelled well and jumped great. He was looking about on the run-in today – but when The Conditional joined him he went again, so I’m delighted.

“I’d ride him in the National – he wouldn’t touch a twig.”

Betfair introduced the seven-year-old at 40-1 in their ante-post market for Aintree.

Racing Insights, 16th December 2020

As expected, Maaward was the worst in his race and having drifted from an already unbackable 40/1 out to an SP of 100/1, you din't need my help in giving that one a swerve. Which left us with the in-form Athmad, who ended up finishing third at 10/3. He was unusually slowly away and a little unlucky in the run, but whether that cost him a length and a half, we can only speculate.

Bet365 took my money, so I need to try and get it back on Wednesday, where our feature of the day is the Trainer Stats report, whilst our free races are as follows...

  • 1.45 Newbury
  • 2.20 Newbury
  • 2.40 Dundalk
  • 5.15 Dundalk
  • 7.05 Kempton

And it's the Trainer Stats report for us today and a well known name with a good five year course handicap record...

Yes, Paul Nicholls is the man in focus today. He admittedly does well at most tracks but tends not to be profitable to back blindly, yet at Industry SP (which nobody backs at), he still shows a 10.75% ROI from 32 runners in handicaps here at Ludlow over the last five years.

Now, call me a coward, a sexist or a sexist coward for not tackling the 3.05 race, but I'm really not into female amateur jockey handicaps featuring a dozen or more poor horses, so we'll focus on the two to be ridden by a friend of Geegeez, Mr Harry Cobden.

Harry also has a good record here at Ludlow as signified by his own C5 indicator and since the start of 2017, he is 12 from 45 (26.7% SR) in jumps contests here, including...

  • 10/28 (35.7%) for Paul Nicholls
  • 7/22 (31.8%) in chases
  • 5/23 (21.7%) over hurdles
  • 7/14 (50%) on Nicholls' chasers
  • and 3/14 (21.4%) on Nicholls' hurdlers.

All looking very promising, but as it's the Trainer Stats report we're looking at, we should also consider Paul Nicholls' record at this venue too!

Since the start of 2015, Paul has sent 3566 runners out to compete, with 820 (23% SR) of them winning, but for some reason only 2% of his runners have been sent on the relatively short 110 mile journey North to Ludlow and it's not because they don't win here, as that 2% of runners generate 2.56% of his winners and his strike rate is one third better here than generally at 31% via 21 winners from 72 runners.

Of those 72, chasers are 11 from 34 (32.4%) and hurdlers are 10 from 33 (30.3%) and as both runners in focus today are chasers, it miht be handy to know that the 11/34 chasers stat includes...

  • 8/26 (30.8%) at Class 3 and 1/1 (100%) at Class 2
  • 5/17 (29.4%) over 3m and 2/3 (66.6%) over 2m
  • and 3 from 8 (37.5%) on soft ground.
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So far, I've not seen anything to deter me,so let's look at the two runners in time order...

Form figures look good, closed out last season with finishes of 126 in Class 4 Novice hurdles and then took 237 days off track ahead of a run here at Ludlow in October when winning a Novice handicap Chase over 2m0.5f by 8.5 lengths under Harry Cobden. Five weeks later (19 days ago) he then tried to repeat the run at the same class and trip and Newbury but was only second of eight, beaten by four lengths, having been raised 3lbs.

He's now up in class again and up another couple of pounds which should make this a stiffer task, but his suitability is shown below...

In addition to the above, I'd add that he has 3 wins and 2 places from 7 runs going right handed and has 2 wins and 3 places from 8 under Harry Cobden. He runs off a career high mark today and the soft ground might be an issue, but can he compensate for tough conditions by adopting a useful position in the pack? The pace tab might have some pointers...

Hmmm, ideally he'd want Molineaux to take it on and tow him round for a mile and three quarters and then hopefully swallow the leader up late on. However, there's a distinct possibility of them taking each other on, making them both vulnerable to something coming out of the pack.

*

Now let's look at his stablemate, who goes in the next race...

He won a 2m0.5f, Class 3 Novice Chase at Fakenham 22 months, but has been disappointing since if you only looked at his form figures of 35U28P8 since that win. I know, however, that Geegeez readers are a good deal more savvy than the average punter and you'll want to know the context of those runs, as they're not a true indicator of his actual ability.

In fact they contain a runner-up finish (beaten by a neck) in the Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase at HQ just 13 months ago and also a third place run when beaten by just four lengths in the Grade 3 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year. Sadly, he hasn't yet been at his best this season and was Pulled Up in a Grade 3 at HQ a month ago and was just 8th of 16 in a Class 2 over 2m6.5f at Newbury 18 days ago.

He's now down in class and weight, but up in trip by 1.5 furlongs as he seeks a return to form, although he's still 3lbs higher than his last winning mark, as seen below...

He has 3 wins and a place from 6 in the less valuable Class 3 contests and he's 1 from 2 under Harry Cobden, but that soft ground form is alarming and the fact that he was 3rd of 3 and beaten by 56 lengths on his only previous run beyond 2m6.5f isn't great either and as for the pace in the contest...

... a mid-division "pozzy" is neither here nor there to be honest. You want to be up amongst it in races like these and a look back through his better performances show that he's much better suited by being further forward than he has been of late and I wouldn't be surprised to see a reversion of tactics here. Something needs changing, after all!

Summary

Both of the Nicholls' chasers here have undoubted ability, but both carry warnings about them. Eritage couldn't win a Class 3 off 136 last time out, but now tackles a Class 2 off 138 and Brelan D'As has been ridden in a way that doesn't suit him of late and he's being asked to run further than any distance he's ever gone well at. Plus both are winless in 10 soft ground appearances between them.

But can they win here? Yes, I think both can, if running to their best.

Will they win, though? Well, I don't see Brelan D'As winning if I'm honest. I think the market has it right and that the race will go to one of Buster Thomas (4/1) or Earlofthecotswolds (5/2), preferably in that order. However, if on form and ridden differently, our boy could grab a place. Failing that, there's ll be a chance for a decent-priced E/W punt here and I quite like the O'Neill horse, As You Like at 20/1.

As for Eritage, despite my reservations, I think he's still just about the best in this race, but I'm not sure he's a 2/1 shot especially in a race where many have chances. Cain du Lain looks like one of those who might profit on the pace angle and he's 2lbs lower than when winning this race last year, whilst I like the chances of both Hatcher at 6/1 and Admiral's Secret at 7/1 to give the fav a good run for his money.

This is a really competitive race and whoever wins it will have earned it!

Cobden has maximum faith in Cyrname ahead of King George

Harry Cobden feels Cyrname has had a much better preparation for this year’s Ladbrokes King George VI Chase than 12 months ago.

This time last year Cyrname was fresh off the back of ending Altior’s long unbeaten run at Ascot, but it is widely accepted that in doing so he endured a very hard race and was not quite the same in two subsequent runs.

This year Cyrname endured a gentler introduction in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, and Cobden is sticking with him at Christmas rather than ride his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Clan Des Obeaux, who will be going for a hat-trick of wins in the Boxing Day spectacular.

“They are obviously two very good horses, but I think Cyrname is a different horse going into the race this year – I hope he is anyway,” Cobden told Sky Sports Racing.

“He wasn’t going from quite a long way out last year, I don’t think he was ever going actually. I made the wrong decision and it cost me a stack of money!

“Going into this year I think Cyrname is in good form, he came out of Wetherby really well.

“I’ll probably ride him a little different this year, I won’t be blitzing off in front trying to serve it up to them, I’ll try to conserve as much energy as I can. I might not even sit in front, I’ll probably try to take a lead and see where we are turning in.”

Clan Des Obeaux is a dual winner of the King George
Clan Des Obeaux is a dual winner of the King George (Steven Paston/PA)

He went on: “He wasn’t keen at Wetherby and travelled really well. I know we didn’t beat any world-beaters, there was no serious Grade One horse in there, there was no Clan Des Obeaux, but the way he went round there was good and he stayed on up the straight really well.

“I genuinely feel he’ll come on for it as he didn’t go away for a gallop, last year he had one before he beat Altior but this year he hadn’t been properly tuned up and hopefully that has put him right for the King George.”

Cobden half-century is well ahead of schedule

Harry Cobden is just one winner behind Jump Jockeys’ Championship leader Brian Hughes after a double at Huntingdon, highlighted by his 50th success of the season aboard Wild Max.

Cobden continued his fine run of form on the five-year-old in the Download The tote App Michaelmas Hurdle, which was the third leg of an across-the-card four-timer for trainer Paul Nicholls.

“I always try and aim to ride 50 winners by January – so to get 50 by November is pretty good,” said the 22-year-old.

“I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season. Hopefully I can stay in one piece and keep on rolling.

“If we get March out of the way and I’m still there then it will be all guns blazing.

“This year is different to any others, because those that normally get 100 winners on the board early haven’t, so this season is a good one to give the title a go.”

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Victory for the 2-1 favourite, who obliged by a neck, was compensation for defeat on last month’s seasonal return at Cheltenham – where he suffered interference at a crucial stage when still holding every chance.

Nicholls’ assistant Harry Derham said: “I was little nervous he was doing a fraction too much – he has almost travelled too well, because he has a lot of pace.

“He enjoys a flat track, and all of his wins have come on them. I’d like to think the better the race, the faster they go, the more he will relax.”

Master Tommytucker, right, on his way to defeating Precious Cargo at Huntingdon (Tim Goode/PA Images)
Master Tommytucker (right) on his way to defeating Precious Cargo at Huntingdon (Tim Goode/PA Images)

Master Tommytucker (4-5) got his chequered career over fences back on track – to get the ball rolling for both Cobden and Nicholls in the Download The tote App Intermediate Chase.

Having fallen in three of his previous five starts over fences, the lightly-raced nine-year-old put in an immaculate display of jumping to defeat his sole rival Precious Cargo by 12 lengths.

Derham said: “He didn’t have to have too much of a hard race there, which was nice. There is no doubt the engine is there – it was just a case of getting rid of those jumping errors.

“He will go to Haydock now, because there is a two-and-a-half-mile graduation chase there on Betfair Chase day, and it is worth quite a bit. ”

Having had to come to terms with the loss of Namib Dancer after his fall earlier in the card, trainer Emma Lavelle had her spirits lifted after Dollnamix struck at the 16th attempt in division two of the Download The tote App Handicap Hurdle.

Speaking away from the track, she said: “It is just the ups and downs of racing for you.  Neither the horse or owners deserved that.

“I think Namib Dancer had a heart attack. He was doing everything right, then three or four strides before the hurdle (jockey) Aidan (Coleman) said he knew what was coming.”

On her 100-30 winner, Lavelle added: “Dollnamix has thrown a few races away before – but he has done everything right today, and that will do his confidence the world of good.”

Eileendover (28-1) saved the best until last when running out a facile 29-length winner on her debut in the tote.co.uk Ten To Follow “Junior” Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.

Winning trainer Pam Sly said: “She worked with one of my other useful ones Takeit Easy the other day – and I thought ‘that will do!’.

“She was supposed to run on the Flat but had problems with the stalls, but it’s a good job I didn’t go down that route now.

“I suppose we will look at getting some black type now.”

Cobden looking forward to Sonnet challenge

Ante-post favourite Saint Sonnet is among 17 five-day confirmations in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The five-year-old joined the Paul Nicholls stable from France last season and has had runs to date for the Ditcheat trainer.

After getting off the mark first time when long odds-on at Catterick, Saint Sonnet was thrown in at the deep end in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

He shaped promisingly when seventh to Samcro after stumbling at the final fence.

Saint Sonnet was ridden by Harry Cobden on both occasions, and the title-chasing jockey is looking forward to continuing the partnership.

“I wouldn’t ride another one over him,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

“That (Cheltenham) was a great run. Obviously, he’s had a much better preparation this year.

“Fingers crossed he’ll run a tidy race.”

Happy Diva (right) is set to defend her crown in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham
Happy Diva (right) is set to defend her crown in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham (Nigel French/PA)

One of his main market rivals is Harry Whittington’s Simply The Betts, winner of the Brown Advisory & Merribelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Festival. Happy Diva, runner-up that day and winner of this race 12 months ago, is also in the mix.

Brelan D’As was beaten a neck by Happy Diva in the 2019 renewal and gives Nicholls a decent second string.

The weights are headed by the Venetia Williams-trained Aso, while other hopefuls include Mister Fisher, Al Dancer, Slate House and Spiritofthegames.