Cheltenham victor Minella Indo tops 11 in Punchestown mix

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo will face a maximum of 10 rivals when he bids to follow up at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge led home stablemate A Plus Tard to win the blue riband at Prestbury Park last month under Jack Kennedy, who will once again be on board in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup next week.

The eight-year-old is set to renew rivalry with the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.

Al Boum Photo will bid to get back to winning ways
Al Boum Photo will bid to get back to winning ways (PA)

Al Boum Photo finished an honourable third when bidding for a Gold Cup hat-trick in the Cotswolds, while Kemboy – who had previously beaten Minella Indo when landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown – was only ninth.

Kemboy famously sent Ruby Walsh into retirement when beating Al Boum Photo in the last running of the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019.

Mullins has also left in Ryanair Chase winner Allaho, Easy Game and Melon, while British hopes will be carried by Clan Des Obeaux, who was supplemented on Thursday morning at a cost of 25,000 euro.

The dual King George winner got back on the winning trail in the Betway Bowl at Aintree earlier in the month – and trainer Paul Nicholls is looking forward to seeing him take on the Irish in a race he won with Neptune Collonges in both 2007 and 2008.

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“This is weather is ideal for him, this time of year suits him and the track should suit,” said Nicholls.

“He’s in good shape and looks fantastic, so we’re really looking forward to it.

“We’ve been very successful at Punchestown in the past, with Neptune Collonges and Master Minded and others.

“It’s all about having the horses that are good enough to be competitive in those races.”

Denise Foster’s pair of Tiger Roll and The Storyteller, Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir d’Oudairies and the Tom Mullins-trained Court Maid are the other hopefuls.

The feature event on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival on Tuesday is the William Hill Champion Chase.

Willie Mullis has already stated his intention to run both the aforementioned Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi in this Grade One contest, along with Cilaos Emery.

Fakir d’Oudairies also has this option, while Kim Bailey and Dan Skelton hope to send First Flow and Nube Negra across the Irish Sea.

Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy), Daly Tiger (Noel Meade) and De Bromhead’s Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On complete the nine confirmations, although the latter is set to contest Saturday’s Celebration Chase at Sandown.

The Mullins-trained Appreciate It is the star attraction among 13 still in the mix for the first Grade One of the week – the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Appreciate It was a wide-margin winner at Cheltenham
Appreciate It was a wide-margin winner at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A runaway winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old will be a warm order to follow up back on home soil.

Echoes In Rain and Blue Lord are also part of a strong Mullins team in the same race, while De Bromhead has confirmed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner Bob Olinger, although he appears more likely to run later in the week.

The third and arguably most exciting of the three Grade One races on day one is the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, which is set to stage a mouthwatering clash between the Mullins-trained Monkfish and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen.

The champion trainer also has Cheltenham Festival heroine Colreevy and Franco De Port in a field of eight.

The main supporting races to the Gold Cup on Wednesday are the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles and the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

Flooring Porter winning the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham
Flooring Porter winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier will bid to supplement his win in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in the former, while Mullins is ready to let Champion Bumper one-two Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard lock horns again in the latter.

Cromwell also trains the likely favourite for the big race on Thursday – the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.

Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and will be well fancied to follow up.

A 19-strong entry also includes Paul Nolan’s Pertemps Final winner Mrs Milner, Denise Foster’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Sire Du Berlais and Noel Meade’s fourth Beacon Edge.

Energumene, who disappointingly missed the Arkle Cheltenham after suffering a setback, is one of eight remaining contenders for the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase.

Envoi Allen also has the option of running in this two-mile contest.

Nicholls has long-term Grand National plan for Topofthegame

Paul Nicholls has identified next year’s Randox Grand National as a long-term target for his sidelined stable star Topofthegame.

Winner of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, the Flemensfirth gelding finished second to Lostintranslation at Aintree the following month but has not been seen in competitive action since.

Just as was the case this season before injury intervened, Nicholls hopes to see his charge return to action in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury at the end of November.

However, while he once considered him a serious contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, he now views the world’s most famous steeplechase as a more suitable aim for the nine-year-old.

The Queen feeds carrots to Topofthegame on a visit to Ditcheat
The Queen feeds carrots to Topofthegame on a visit to Ditcheat (Matt Keeble/PA)

Speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing ahead of being crowned champion trainer for a 12th time at Sandown on Saturday, Nicholls said of Topofthegame: “He’s fine and the plan would be for him to come in on July 1 and aim him again at the Ladbrokes Trophy.

“Now he’s a bit older this year and has had a few problems – in my view, the race to train him for would be the National.

“I think he would be fantastic round Aintree as he’s got some class.

“My aim is to try to get him back on track and have a good crack at trying to win the National with him.

“It’s not going to be easy – it’s a challenge – but he’s in good shape at the moment.”

Paul Nicholls sets new personal best with Perth triumph

Paul Nicholls beat his best ever tally of winners for a single season as Threeunderthrufive gave him his 172nd victory of the campaign at Perth on Wednesday.

The Ditcheat handler, who will be crowned Britain’s champion National Hunt trainer for a 12th time when the season comes to a close at Sandown on Saturday, equalled his previous record of 171 when Samarrive struck gold at Kempton on Monday.

And while he did not saddle any runners on Tuesday, he moved onto the 172-winner mark by landing Wednesday’s Listed feature in Scotland.

Unbeaten in his first three starts over hurdles before finishing sixth in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival last month, Threeunderthrufive was a 15-8 chance for the British EBF William Hill Gold Castle “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.

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After travelling well for much of the three-mile contest under Adrian Heskin, the six-year-old pulled clear in the straight and passed the post with nine and a half lengths in hand over Castle Rushen.

What makes the trainer’s achievement particularly impressive is the fact that the season did not get under way until the start of July, rather than late April, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Nicholls, whose figure of 171 winners was achieved in the 2016-17 season, said: “You always want to better what you’ve done and to get the record in a short season is really good.

“It’s been a 10-month season, rather than 12 months, so it’s a good effort by everybody.”

Paul Nicholls with Frodon after winning the King George
Paul Nicholls with Frodon after winning the King George (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While Nicholls did not manage to saddle a winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, he has still enjoyed plenty of highlights, including a 12th win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton with the Bryony Frost-ridden Frodon.

Nicholls also landed a Grade One double on the opening day of the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree courtesy of Monmiral and Clan Des Obeaux, while in early January he sent out seven winners across three jumps meetings in Britain.

“It’s been a fine season and we’ve won a lot of good races and won a lot of prize-money,” the trainer added.

“We started off winning the Charlie Hall (with Cyrname) and the Haldon Gold Cup (with Greaneteen) and went on to win the King George and the Tingle Creek (with Politologue) again, so we’ve been winning big races consistently.

“We obviously didn’t have a Cheltenham Festival winner this year, but that will come – we’ll get a few more better horses and we’ll be away again.”

Clan Des Obeaux to be supplemented for Punchestown

Clan Des Obeaux will run in the Punchestown Gold Cup next week rather than this weekend’s bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.

The dual King George VI Chase winner, who was third in the latest renewal of the Kempton showpiece, returned to winning ways with a smooth victory at Aintree.

His 26-length triumph in the Betway Bowl was one of three winners on the opening day of the Grand National meeting for his co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson.

Trainer Paul Nicholls had been considering the big end-of-season handicap at the Esher track, where he would have been giving upwards of 12lb to all his rivals.

But the Ditcheat handler tweeted on Tuesday evening: “After discussions with the owners of Clan Des Obeaux we have decided that we are going to supplement him for the Punchestown Gold Cup next Wednesday and run him there and not at @Sandownpark.”

The decision to run in Ireland sets up a clash with Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, among others.

Clan Des Obeaux still in Sandown contention

Clan Des Obeaux heads 20 horses confirmed for the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The dual King George hero was last seen bouncing back to winning ways in the Betway Bowl at Aintree earlier this month – one of three winners on the card for co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the immediate aftermath of that Grade One victory, trainer Paul Nicholls raised the possibility of the nine-year-old contesting the traditional end-of-season highlight.

Should he take his chance, Clan Des Obeaux will carry 11st 12lb and concede upwards of 12lb to his rivals, including stablemates Soldier Of Love and Enrilo.

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Welsh trainer Christian Williams has a couple of contenders for the three-mile-five-furlong contest in Kitty’s Light and Cap Du Nord, while Neil Mulholland is set to saddle both The Young Master and Doing Fine.

Williams said of his pair: “The plan is to run the two of them.

“I’m not sure if Clan Des Obeaux will run or not. Paul does like to run them, but it’s a question of whether he’ll run him on that ground.

“It probably won’t make much difference to us if he runs or not. If he does we’ll be slightly out of the weights, which isn’t ideal, but Kitty’s Light isn’t over-big, so if he carries 10st it wouldn’t hurt.

“If Clan Des Obeaux does come out, then he’ll nudge up in the weights, but I wouldn’t be too worried either way.”

The Young Master won the race in 2016 and was second when the race was last run two years ago, while Doing Fine also has winning form over the course and distance.

Mulholland said: “The plan is to run both horses, all going well.

“It’s five years since The Young Master won it, but he’s still going strong and is as fit as we can get him.

The Young Master (left) on his way to winning the 2016 Bet365 Gold Cup
The Young Master (left) on his way to winning the 2016 Bet365 Gold Cup (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He hasn’t had a run for a while (since August), but he’s had a couple of away-days and this has always been the plan for him.

“Doing Fine won the London National at Sandown earlier in the season and likes it around there – he’s run well in this race in the past.

“The Young Master is 12 and Doing Fine is 13. It’s a pity they’re getting on in age, but it happens to us all!”

Henry de Bromhead’s Plan Of Attack and the Sean Doyle-trained Crosshue Boy could travel from Ireland.

Other hopefuls include Kim Bailey’s El Presente and the Venetia Williams-trained Cepage.

Paul Nicholls’ sights set on 12th trainers’ title

Paul Nicholls stands on the verge of being crowned champion trainer for the 12th time, following his profitable Aintree.

A Grade One double on the first day of the Grand National meeting – with Monmiral and Clan Des Obeaux – and then a Grade Two bumper win for Knappers Hill in the hands of Nicholls’ daughter Megan added up to a highly successful trip north for the yard.

It was not seamless, though, because jockeys Harry Cobden and Bryony Frost were both injured in falls on Saturday.

“Heading to Aintree with fresh horses made a big difference,” said Nicholls.

Megan Nicholls celebrates winning on Knappers Hill
Megan Nicholls celebrates winning on Knappers Hill (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“The first day of Aintree was absolutely superb, and I was thrilled for Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson (owners who also won with Dan Skelton’s Protektorat) on landing a Grade One treble.

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“Obviously, Megan winning on Saturday after both my jockeys got hurt, eased the day.”

Nicholls is more than £500,000 in front of nearest challenger Skelton, so a 12th British jumps trainers’ title appears almost his.

“After Aintree, you’d have to say it would be difficult to get beat for the title,” he told Great British Racing.

“I’m currently £500,000 plus in front of Dan, and recouping those winnings doesn’t happen in two weeks. We’re just carrying on as normal and having plenty of runners – it’s all but in the bag really.

“It will be nice to regain the title. I was a bit frustrated last season, which ended prematurely because of Covid. Nicky (Henderson) was obviously in front after the Cheltenham Festival, but we had a big team lined up to run at Aintree and then on to Ayr and Sandown.

“We never had the chance to challenge him. So to get the title back this year, what with all the issues, will be fantastic.”

Despite the Irish dominating the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, Nicholls is pleased with the performance of his own yard.

“Numerically, our record last season was 171 winners, and we’re only nine off beating that statistic, so that’s another milestone that I’m aiming for,” he said.

“If we can crack 172 winners and secure my 12th champion trainer title it would be awesome – and it reflects so well on the whole team.

“There’s all this talk about the Irish this and the Irish that, but we’ve not exactly had a bad season and will hopefully land 172 winners with over £2.5 million in prizemoney.

“My biggest battle over the next few years will be Dan Skelton, without a doubt. Then, the two Harrys (Skelton and Cobden) will challenge one another – that will be interesting!

“I keep Dan on his toes and I’m proud of the fact that he was with me for nine years and is achieving so much.”

Clan Des Obeaux oozes class in Betway Bowl

Clan Des Obeaux made it third time lucky in the Betway Bowl Chase at Aintree with a superb performance.

It was also a red-letter day for Sir Alex Ferguson and his fellow owners, after the same colours were earlier carried to victory in the two previous Grade Ones by Protektorat and Monmiral.

The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old was third in this race in 2018 and second in 2019. He finally got his just reward in some style to give Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden a double after Monmiral.

Mister Fisher made the running to the 12th fence, where he unseated Nico de Boinville after making a bad mistake.

Clan Des Obeaux soon led after that and stretched the opposition. Clondaw Castle was the only horse able to lay down a challenge, but he could not live with the 5-2 favourite, who drew well clear to win by 26 lengths. Clondaw Castle was 18 lengths ahead of Native River.

Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was fourth, a further 48 lengths away as the field finished well strung out.

Nicholls said: “When he’s been here before he’s had two hard races in the Gold Cup so the best thing we did was not take him there (Cheltenham), it makes such a big difference as it’s hard to do both.

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“Perhaps he was disappointing at Newbury, but he did give 6lb to a good horse. It woke us up though as we realised we were probably getting the tactics wrong. We know to be positive on him now.

“Obviously next season the King George will be his number one aim, then back here and I’d like to go for the Denman again. If the ground is decent the Betfair at Haydock is a nice race for him – as is the Charlie Hall.”

He added: “He’s actually in the Bet365 Chase at Sandown and he doesn’t get a penalty, so that could be interesting. I’ve always thought that race would suit him. We didn’t put him in at Punchestown, but I did say if we could win this we could always supplement.”

Owned by Gigginstown House Stud, Tiger Roll was withdrawn from the National and the chance to join Red Rum as a three-time winner, as connections were unhappy with his handicap mark.

And while racing manager Eddie O’Leary is hoping the handicapper reacts by dropping Tiger Roll a few pounds, he is not holding out much hope.

“He ran exactly like I thought. He jumped out, we tried to be positive, which is when he runs best, but they just went too fast for him,” said O’Leary.

“That’s what happens in a Grade One when you haven’t got a Grade One horse.

“Once he finished sound and he gets home happy, that’s all we want. I just hope the handicapper takes note.

“The handicapper wanted us to run him in a race like that and he’s been beaten over 90 lengths. He wanted to see him on the track.

There was no triumphant return to Aintree for Tiger Roll
There was no triumphant return to Aintree for Tiger Roll (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“The handicapper took him out of the Grand National, not us. Easysland came out of the National for the same reason, the problem is the ridiculous ratings the cross-country horses have. They’ve lost the star of the show and Easysland.

“Cross-country ratings should be different, just like turf and all-weather – you have to treat cross country differently, as today showed.

“That was as close as he could finish, there was no way he wasn’t off.”

The stewards did hold an inquiry into the running and riding of Tiger Roll, interviewing Kennedy and trainer Denise Foster.

In the stewards’ report Kennedy said his instructions were to make the running but that he felt the gelding was never really travelling due to the fast early pace, a fact which he reported at scales, and that following a mistake at the third fence, where his mount may have lost confidence, he was never able to hold his position.

Foster spoke to officials by telephone and confirmed both the instructions given and also that Tiger Roll may have been unsuited by the fast pace. She further added the race may have come too soon after the recent run at Cheltenham.

Their explanations were noted.

Monmiral masters Aintree rivals to stay unbeaten

Monmiral maintained his unbeaten record over jumps with a convincing victory in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding oozed class in the hands of Harry Cobden and proved connections right for bypassing the Cheltenham Festival.

Monmiral was always travelling sweetly in third place behind Fiveandtwenty and Paros in the early stages, until he took closer order from three out.

Main market rival Adagio made his move, but a mistake at the final flight cost the Triumph Hurdle runner-up any chance he had and Monmiral scooted away to score by seven an a half lengths.

The victory gave the ownership that includes Sir Alex Ferguson, John Hales and Ged Mason a quick Grade One double following Protektorat’s win in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

Monmiral was cut to 25-1 from 40-1 for the Champion Hurdle and to 20-1 from 40-1 for the Arkle Trophy with Paddy Power and Betfair. Coral also went 20-1 for the Arkle.

Nicholls said: “The owners weren’t keen on Cheltenham. Although usually the Triumph is a cavalry charge and this year there weren’t many runners. This is a lovely race to win and there’s lots to look forward to.

“It has to be the best juvenile performance by a horse this side of the (Irish) sea.

“It will be hard to go novice chasing next season as a five-year-old, you don’t get as much of an allowance as you used to.

“It might be nice to think about the Fighting Fifth, it’s something to think about over the summer. A bit of time wouldn’t hurt this lad. There’s no panic to make a decision. If he won at Newcastle then we know what route to go down.”

The Shunter still thriving as Manifesto test awaits

The Shunter continues to thrive and surprise trainer Emmet Mullins as he nears his next big-race assignment at Aintree.

The prolific eight-year-old steps into Grade One company in Thursday’s SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase, having already landed a huge pot for connections in last month’s Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Shunter bagged a £100,000 bonus with that victory, which came after he had put himself in line for it when taking Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle 12 days earlier.

He had already won a big prize at Cheltenham in November, in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, after moving to Mullins’ County Carlow yard last summer from previous trainer John Clifford.

As The Shunter prepares for his next major challenge in Britain, Mullins reports him to be taking his exertions remarkably well.

“Yes, you wouldn’t know at home (he’s been so busy),” he said.

“He’s thriving at the moment – he looks in great order, and heavier than he did going to Kelso before the journey started.”

The Shunter has proved hugely adaptable as well as durable – winning over both hurdles and fences, at trips varying between two miles and two miles and five furlongs and on both soft and good ground.

“We haven’t come across anything like him (before) – nor did we think (to start with) he was as good as he is,” added Mullins.

The Shunter and Jordan Gainford clear the last at Cheltenham
The Shunter and Jordan Gainford clear the last at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He just keeps improving. I would argue his most impressive performance was his last run at Cheltenham.

“Hurdles or fences – either is not too much of an issue. Arguably he could be a bit better over hurdles.

“But I’d say his ideal conditions are two and half miles on nice ground – and after that hurdles or fences, we don’t really mind.

“He just seems to be in such a rich vein of form.”

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The Shunter has improved three stones in nine months for Mullins, and must therefore venture out of handicap company to take on a field of Britain’s top novices.

Mullins added: “He doesn’t show a whole lot at home – and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot of work at home.

“So, I’m only seeing what everyone else is seeing on the track – and I’m happy enough to do that.

“I’m not going to force his hand at home. If he doesn’t want to show it to me, that’s OK.

“I can wait like everyone else to see him (do it on the track). Once he keeps winning, I’m happy.

“We’ve got our big handicap pots out of him – and he’s kind of gone up too far up in the handicap to be flying that route (any more).

“He keeps surprising us. Our handicap mark says we should be there – we’re probably stretching a bit going straight into Grade One company.

“But he owes us nothing – and whatever he can do is a bonus from here.”

Nicky Henderson is expecting a big run out of Fusil Raffles
Nicky Henderson is expecting a big run out of Fusil Raffles (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Leading the home defence against The Shunter is the Nicky Henderson-trained Fusil Raffles, second to stablemate Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Henderson said: “This is his trip, I’m pretty sure.

“He ran a great race at Cheltenham. Envoi Allen helped us a fair bit by declining to come round all the way, and did leave the door open, but you’ve got to be there to take your chance when you’re offered it.

“Chantry House beat Fusil Raffles, but ‘Fusil’ is very good in his own right – and over two and a half, this is the place for him.”

Paul Nicholls is equally hopeful about the chance of Hitman, who arrives on Merseyside a fresh horse after missing Cheltenham.

The Ditcheat trainer said in his Betfair blog: “He’s a proper young chaser who was still travelling strongly when he came down in the Grade One Scilly Isles at Sandown and then enjoyed a nice, confidence-boosting victory at Newbury early in March.

“As he’s only just five and lacks experience, we decided to bypass Cheltenham and wait for this race over a trip of two and a half miles – which is ideal.”

Umbrigado (left) gets up on the line at Newbury
Umbrigado (left) gets up on the line at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The David Pipe-trained Umbrigado has won the last three of his four outings over fences, most recently the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury.

Pipe said: “He was very good the last day at Newbury – and although this will be different, with a small but select field, the track and trip should suit him, and he definitely deserves to go there.

“He ran well the time before last at Wetherby and he showed that he stays two and a half miles last time at Newbury on better ground. He seems to be much better over a fence.

“We decided not to go to Cheltenham with him, because it was close enough after Newbury. His owners (John White and Anne Underhill) have had great success at both Cheltenham and Aintree, but we opted for Aintree because he ran well enough there before.

“He has always been a horse we thought a lot of, and the last two performances have demonstrated that. He is going to have to improve again, but he seems to be on an upward curve.”

Adagio has been a star for David Pipe this season
Adagio has been a star for David Pipe this season (David Davies/PA)

Pipe also has a leading contender for Grade One honours in the shape of Triumph Hurdle runner-up Adagio.

Already a winner at the top level in Chepstow’s Finale Hurdle, the four-year-old proved best of the British runners in the juvenile championship – and faces five rivals in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

Pipe said: “He was perhaps a little bit of a forgotten horse in the Triumph, but he ran an absolute cracker.

“He has won around Cheltenham, and a quick track like Warwick, so I think he is versatile regarding ground and track.

“I wasn’t sure at the start whether he would be good enough to be up to Triumph Hurdle standard, but he has proved me wrong by the performances at Chepstow and at Cheltenham.”

The one to beat, however, could be Monmiral – who like Hitman did not run at Cheltenham.

Monmiral has been saved for Aintree
Monmiral has been saved for Aintree (David Davies/PA)

The French import is unbeaten in three starts for Nicholls, who said: “He’s a good example of my belief that everything in the season shouldn’t revolve around Cheltenham. We don’t buy and train horses just for the Festival.

“We don’t have to take horses there – we were not tempted by the Triumph Hurdle, and it was always the plan that Monmiral would head instead to Aintree after he won impressively on both starts for us.

“The form of his latest success at Haydock has been well and truly franked by the second and the third. While he has only ever raced on soft ground, I feel that good to soft on Thursday will be fine for him.”

Politologue among Marsh octet

Politologue is set to face seven rivals in the Marsh Chase at Aintree on Friday.

Paul Nicholls’ grey was forced to miss the defence of his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at last month’s Cheltenham Festival after he was found to have a trickle of blood in his nostril.

The incident proved to be nothing serious, however, and the 10-year-old will aim for a second win in Friday’s feature, which is registered as the Melling Chase, having claimed victory in 2018 and finished second to Min when the race was last run two years ago.

Nicholls also runs the classy Master Tommytucker and Duc des Genievres, a previous winner of the Arkle.

Jerry Scott’s Dashel Drasher, a late absentee from the Ryanair Chase on account of the ground, will aim to add to his Grade One tally having won the Ascot Chase last time out.

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Nuts Well finally returns to action for Ann and Ian Hamilton, having missed several engagements since his victory over the same course and distance in the Old Roan Chase in October.

Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir d’Oudairies, who was a non-runner at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, and Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook represent the all-conquering Irish team.

Itchy Feet for Olly Murphy completes the field.

The Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle has 10 runners including County Hurdle winner Belfast Banter.

Nicky Henderson’s highly-regarded Dusart, not sighted since beating the high-class Soaring Glory on his hurdles debut in November, is bound to be popular with punters.

Kim Bailey’s Ajero, who is on a five-timer, and Nicholls’ Houx Gris, who ran so well for a long way in the Boodles at Cheltenham, are also engaged.

In the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase, Henderson’s Chantry House gets the chance to build on his victory in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Colin Tizzard fields strong opposition in the shape of The Big Breakaway and Fiddlerontheroof, who both ran well behind the exciting Monkfish at the Festival.

Shan Blue steps back up to three miles after being ridden aggressively in the Marsh at Cheltenham, with Silver Hallmark, Sporting John, Espoir De Romay and Empire Steel also running.

The Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle sees Nicholls’ Bravemansgame step up to three miles following his eclipse by Bob Olinger in the Ballymore at Cheltenham.

He is among a field of 15 which includes Emmet Mullins’ Cape Gentleman, Tizzard’s Oscar Elite and Henderson’s Gallyhill.

A field of 28 will line up in the Randox Topham Handicap Chase over the National fences, with Ibleo heading the weights for Venetia Williams.

Two For Gold, Caribean Boy and Willie Mullins’ Livelovelaugh, ridden by Patrick Mullins, are among a competitive field.

Diego delivers in Plumpton feature for Nicholls

Diego Du Charmil looked a cut above his rivals as he defied top weight in the Sussex Champion Handicap Hurdle at Plumpton.

Ridden by 7lb claimer Angus Cheleda, the Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old cruised into the lead before the penultimate flight and won in good style despite idling in the closing stages.

Cheleda gave Diego Du Charmil a patient ride, having him tucked away in last place as Brandon Castle attempted to make all the running.

Making his move before the home turn, the well-backed 11-8 favourite asserted in convincing fashion, but just had to be kept up to his work after jumping the final flight. He crossed the line a length to the good over Sebastopol.

It was Diego Du Charmil’s first win since he landed a Listed handicap chase at Ascot in November 2019. A Grade One scorer over the bigger obstacles at Aintree in April 2018, he was switched back to hurdling last year.

“It was an ideal race for him, We have been waiting for better ground,” said Nicholls.

“He was 8lb better handicapped over hurdles than he was over fences, so we thought we’d take the opportunity, with Angus taking 7lb off as well it was a perfect race for him.”

Diego Du Charmil could now head north of the border for the Scottish Champion Hurdle on April 17.

“He’s got an entry at Ayr in the Scottish Champion Hurdle. He could possibly end up there,” Nicholls added.

Tabitha Worsley enjoyed a boost ahead of partnering Sub Lieutenant in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday when causing an upset on 50-1 shot O’Rahilly.

The nine-year-old edged out Queen Among Kings, ridden by Page Fuller, by a nose to give trainer Andy Irvine a one-two in the An Evening With Paul Merson 9th September Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

Worsley told Sky Sports Racing: “I spoke to Page before and she had the choice between them. She said she couldn’t split them, and there was only a nose difference. She gave me good advice which helped.

“It’s great to ride a winner for Andy and my first hurdle ride was in these colours for (the late) Zoe (Davison, his wife).

“If we can continue this form into next weekend, I’ll be very happy.”

Politologue has Aintree in sights

Politologue heads 11 entries in the Marsh Chase at Aintree.

Paul Nicholls’ grey was denied the chance to defend his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham last month when a trace of blood was found in his nostril minutes before going to post.

The problem was nothing serious, and on Friday he is set to make his third appearance in a race registered as the Melling Chase – which he won in 2018.

Nicholls could also run Master Tommytucker, Duc Des Genievres and Real Steel.

Nuts Well, not sighted since winning the Old Roan over the same course and distance in October, could take on the big guns for the small stable of Ann Hamilton.

Dashel Drasher, Lalor, Itchy Feet and Midnight Shadow complete the entries from Britain – while there are two Irish possibles, Fakir d’Oudairies, declared to run at Fairyhouse on Monday, and Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook.

In the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle, Dan Skelton’s My Drogo has the chance at the highest level to confirm the promising impression he has made this season.

Stablemate Third Time Lucki, Nicky Henderson’s Dusart and Cheltenham absentee Dreal Deal are among the intriguing entries – along with Alex Hales’ For Pleasure, a highly creditable third in the Supreme last month.

There are several four-year-olds entered – among them Alan King’s Tritonic, who disappointed when strongly fancied for the Triumph Hurdle.

In the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase, Henderson’s Festival winner Chantry House is due to step up in trip to three miles for the first time.

Colin Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway, who both ran well behind Monkfish at Cheltenham, the Skelton pair of Shan Blue and Protektorat and Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky are among 18 entries.

Also in the mix is Emmet Mullins’ The Shunter, who is likely to have a myriad of options once more through the week.

The Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle has attracted 23 entries, which include Mullins’ Cape Gentleman.

Bravemansgame, Adrimel, Dreal Deal and Gallyhill are all included.

The field for the Randox Topham Chase over the Grand National fences has been reduced to 32, with the Venetia Williams-trained Ibleo heading the weights.

Headgear will be on at Aintree for Clan Des Obeaux

Clan Des Obeaux is set to be fitted with headgear for the first time in the Betway Bowl at Aintree.

The dual King George VI Chase hero has finished third and second in the last two runnings of next week’s Grade One contest – and will return to Merseyside in a bid to make it third time lucky on Thursday week.

With connections deciding against a third tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Clan Des Obeaux will be making his first appearance since failing to reel in stablemate Secret Investor in last month’s Denman Chase at Newbury.

Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “Clan Des Obeaux will run in the Betway Bowl and he is either going to run in some blinkers or cheekpieces – we will decide nearer the time.

“He ran very well the last day behind Secret Investor and he deserves to win a nice race this season. He ran on at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, but the ground would have been against him that day, then he didn’t quite perform in the King George.

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“I just think some cheekpieces or blinkers might just sharpen him up a bit, because the other day I thought he should have won at Newbury, but Secret Investor just out-battled him a little bit.

“To be fair, he has had a lot of hard races but he has stayed sound through it all. He probably looks after himself a little bit, so a bit of headgear might just focus him a bit more.”

Clan Des Obeaux will be part of a strong Nicholls squad bound for Aintree, with Politologue a potential runner in the Marsh Melling Chase on Friday week.

The grey did not defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham after he was found to have blood in one of his nostrils when being saddled.

Paul Nicholls with Politologue
Paul Nicholls with Politologue (David Davies/PA)

“Politologue will either go here or go to Sandown for the Celebration Chase,” Nicholls added.

“It was frustrating what happened before the Queen Mother, and it just about summed my Cheltenham week up. The way the race unfolded you would have to have said he would have been right in the mix.

“He just had a trickle of blood in his nose – it wasn’t from his lungs. (But) if we had run him and something happened to him, we would never forgive ourselves, so we did the right thing for the horse.

“You can’t take chances with horses like that. He is fresh and well – and he has won the Melling Chase before.”

Master Tommytucker, last seen finishing second in the Ascot Chase, is also in the mix for the same race.

Hitman heads for Aintree with strong claims
Hitman heads for Aintree with strong claims (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nicholls said: “Master Tommytucker was always going to go for this race after his run at Ascot.

“Better ground will suit him, as would a flatter track. I don’t think he will be far away in the King George next season.”

The Ditcheat handler confirmed Hitman an intended runner in Thursday’s Manifesto Novices’ Chase, rating him one of his “best chances” of the meeting, while Yala Enki and Give Me A Copper will bid for glory in the Randox Grand National itself.

He said: “We took Yala Enki down to David Pipe’s the other day to jump the National fences there, and he jumped great. He’s been to Lambourn to go over the National fences there as well, so he has had two schools over the fences.

“Give Me A Copper schooled with him at David’s the other day, and he did well. I’ve always thought this race would suit him.”

Title-chasing Harry Cobden hits Wincanton treble

Harry Cobden kept himself in the race for the jockeys’ championship by riding a treble at Wincanton on Monday.

The 22-year-old began the day 13 winners behind reigning champion Brian Hughes’ tally of 126 for the season, with Harry Skelton splitting the pair on 120.

Skelton made significant inroads with a four-timer at Stratford, where Hughes also got on the scoreboard, while Cobden landed three of the first four races in Somerset – moving him to the 116-winner mark with three and a half weeks of the campaign left to go.

He said: “I had four nice rides today and had three winners and a third, so I’m very happy with that.”

Confirmation Bias passes the stands in front at Wincanton
Confirmation Bias passes the stands in front at Wincanton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Cobden teamed up with boss Paul Nicholls for his first two winners, with Confirmation Bias and Danny Kirwan both impressing.

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Confirmation Bias was the 7-4 favourite for the opening Racing TV Extra ‘National Hunt’ Maiden Hurdle and displayed a willing attitude to see off Gold Link by a length and three-quarters.

“It was nice to see him put his head down and gallop right to the line today,” Cobden continued.

“It was a good, solid performance and I think he appreciated the better ground.”

The Cobden-Nicholls combination hit the mark again an hour later, with 5-4 shot Danny Kirwan making virtually every yard of the running and pulling 14 lengths clear of market rival Beyond The Pale in the Bet At Novices’ Hurdle.

Cobden said: “He’s a classy horse and is probably just a bit better than the horses he was up against today on this sort of ground.

“He’s a nice, big, imposing type who should be an exciting chaser next year.”

The rider completed his hat-trick aboard the Colin Tizzard-trained Kauto The King (3-1) in the Dot Tolson Memorial Handicap Chase.

Runners in action at Wincanton
Runners in action at Wincanton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

On his chances of landing the jockeys’ championship, Cobden added: “You never know in racing, anything can happen.”

There was a shock result in the concluding Visit Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, with Catchin Time scoring at huge odds of 125-1.

Ridden by 7lb claimer Peter Summers, the Laura Hurley-trained 13-year-old cruised to victory – his first since February 2017.

Summers said: “I’ve been riding for six years now and that’s my first winner. It’s only my second ride under Rules.

“It is a really special day for me. He is a lovely little horse.”

Switch Hitter on target in Plate prize

Switch Hitter was prominent throughout and held on with great determination to win the Virgin Bet Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.

Bryony Frost had Paul Nicholls’ lightly-raced six-year-old right up with a steady pace almost from the outset, alongside Vive Le Roi.

It proved another canny ride round this track from Frost as Switch Hitter saw off Breffniboy after the last to win by a neck at 11-2 – with favourite Nightboattoclyro having to settle for third, another five lengths back, unable to bridge the gap in the straight after being held up in pursuit of a four-timer this season.

Switch Hitter was returning from a near three-month break, having been well-beaten on his handicap debut over course and distance on Boxing Day.

He was winning for the second time in only five career starts under rules, in this competitive feature race.

The £22,000 contest was a consolation race for those runners that missed the cut at the Cheltenham Festival, and Nicholls was full of praise for the concept.

He said: “It’s brilliant that they have races like this, with nice prize money, for horses that weren’t able to go to Cheltenham.

“I can’t really say enough about the value of these consolation races – he was balloted out of the Coral Cup.

“He will make a lovely chaser next year. He’s a point to point winner and will jump fences.

“There’s a novice chase here in May that could be on the agenda as he wants good ground, but he could firstly go to Sandown where there’s a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle on the last day of the season.”