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Nietzsche seeking to add Paddy Power Gold to Greatwood glory

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 and Tom O'Brien on their way to victory last year
Coole Cody and Tom O’Brien on their way to victory last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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.

Al Dancer has a liking for Cheltenham
Al Dancer has a liking for Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

“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.”

Protektorat starred at Aintree
Protektorat starred at Aintree (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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.”

Lalor is hugely talented at his best
Lalor is hugely talented at his best (David Davies/PA)

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.”

Manofthemountain in action at Bangor
Manofthemountain in action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

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.”

Nietzsche continues to do Ellison proud with Ayr victory

Brian Ellison was delighted to see Nietzsche bag his biggest victory over fences to date with battling performance in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase at Ayr.

Winner of the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had been running consistently well in competitive handicap chases all season, most recently finishing eighth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Johnny Burke, Nietzsche was a 6-1 shot for the Listed feature on the opening day of the Scottish Grand National meeting – and after taking over from Voix Du Reve on the run-in, had just enough in reserve to repel 15-8 favourite Not That Fuisse by a neck.

“He’s a star,” said Ellison.

“He’s won four races on the Flat, he’s won a Greatwood Hurdle and was third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham (in 2017). He probably would have won that day if he didn’t hit the front too early.

“He ran at the Festival last time and was third at Cheltenham before that. He’s a good horse.

“Johnny gave him a good ride. He wanted to get there after the last and that’s what he did.”

While out of luck with Not That Fuisse, Harry Skelton extended his lead in the race to be crowned champion jockey to four courtesy of a first- and last-race double.

The rider teamed up with brother Dan to win both the Tennent’s Lager Novices’ Hurdle with 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, and the Book Your Staycation At Western House Hotel Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now.

Stepney Causeway was winning his fourth successive race over obstacles when scoring by 19 lengths in the opener, but could be set for a return to the Flat.

His trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse, to be honest. He’s just improving rapidly and it was great to see him do it like that.

“On his first run for us we ran him in soft ground and right-handed and it turned out that’s everything he doesn’t want. We’ve since run him left-handed on better ground and he’s won four.

“He’ll have an entry in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock and he’s also entered in the Chester Cup. He won’t get in the Cup, I don’t think, but he could get in the consolation race (Chester Plate).

“The horse in the last (I’d Better Go Now) is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride.”

The brace took Harry Skelton to 143 winners for the season, with reigning champion Brian Hughes on 139 after drawing a blank.

His brother added: “Harry is four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough!”

Both jockeys are in action at Bangor on Saturday before returning to Ayr for Sunday’s Coral Scottish Grand National.