Paul Nicholls believes there is more still to come from Lalor after his excellent debut for the Ditcheat yard on Saturday.
Formerly with Kayley Woollacott, for whom he won a Grade One novice hurdle and a Grade Two novice chase, the nine-year-old was beaten only by Midnight Shadow and Protektorat in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
A return to Cheltenham is on the cards next month, for a horse who was much more like his true self and banished memories of two pulled-up efforts in the spring.
The champion trainer was delighted, as he was with Simply The Betts (sixth), another stable debutant.
He said: “I was thrilled with the pair of them. I was so pleased with Lalor, I’m still learning about him but he’ll come back for the Caspian Caviar in December.
“I think the stiffer track will suit him even better than the course on Saturday. Finishing off a race like that should give him loads of confidence.
“The other lad will improve for the run as well, so I was thrilled with both.”
Nicholls has also taken positives from the defeat of Magistrato, who was fourth in the Triumph Hurdle Trial having made a striking debut last month at Chepstow.
He said: “The juvenile ran well, too, but he just found the ground a bit quick. He’s a proper National Hunt horse who wants soft ground.
“It’ll rain soon, then we can get stuck in – but there’s none forecast!”
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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.”
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Kayley Woollacott’s stable star Lalor could make a late seasonal comeback as he continues to regain fitness after an absence caused by atrial fibrillation.
The nine-year-old was last seen in January 2020, when he ran with great credit in two Grade Three chases at Cheltenham.
Going down by just a short head in a three-way photo finish in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase, the German-bred gelding then returned to Prestbury Park to finish third by three-quarters of a length in the Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase.
Those performances brought the horse’s campaign to a close, with vets then diagnosing him with an irregular heartbeat just as he was gaining fitness ahead of the current season.
“He was nearly ready to run, late last year, November time I think,” Woollacott explained.
“We wanted to get him out and then he did a flat piece of work, it was a bit of a headscratcher.
“Then we found it pretty quickly, luckily we’ve got a good team of vets and he got treated in early December.”
A period of treatment was followed by a further spell of complications, but Woollacott reports Lalor to be recovering well and in line for a possible late return.
“He had the treatment for the atrial fibrillation, but unfortunately he had a few complications after, which was really unfortunate and really rare,” she said.
“He’s come out of it now and he seems OK. We are going along with him, but we are in a bit of a time battle as to whether we’ll be able to get him out this season or not.
“The one saving grace with him, I suppose, is that he loves good ground so he could go right into the spring. If we just turned up at the Festival or Aintree, he would manage.
“We’re just playing it by ear, he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
The condition is not uncommon in racehorses and has afflicted other high-class runners such as Paisley Park and Sprinter Sacre.
Paisley Park returned to triumph in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, whereas Sprinter Sacre famously overcame the issue to reclaim his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown in 2015.
Woollacott takes encouragement from both comebacks, saying: “It’s really good to see (Paisley Park) come back, isn’t it?
“Then there’s Sprinter Sacre and the other high-profile horses who have had it, so we’re hopeful.
“Thankfully, his heart’s given him no problems since the treatment, touch wood.”
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