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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.

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.”

Greatrex satisfied as Roi finishes fourth on comeback

Warren Greatrex was satisfied with La Bague Au Roi’s return effort after a last-fence blunder saw her finish fourth in the Weatherbys Racing Bank David Whitaker Handicap Chase at Perth.

The nine-year-old was conceding weight all around in the three-mile affair, but was still sent off the 2-1 joint-favourite under Richard Johnson.

La Bague Au Roi led from the outset, but was joined by both the Keith Dalgleish-trained Amalfi Doug and Lucinda Russell’s Elmono over the third-last fence.

After shaking off the latter, La Bague Au Roi and Amalfi Doug drew level on the approach to the final obstacle, where Greatrex’s mare clambered through the fence and handed the race to her challenger.

Amalfi Doug went on to triumph by seven and a half lengths, with Elmono second and Dan Skelton’s Very First Time a further three and three-quarter lengths behind in third.

La Bague Au Roi finished a further nine lengths behind in fourth place, but Greatrex felt she would have been closer were it not for her late error.

He said: “She seems fine after the race, which is the main thing. Everything was generally going to plan until the last when she came to a bit of a halt and just couldn’t get going again after that.

“Dickie said she felt like she had all her old enthusiasm, she jumped well enough in the main and galloped from fence to fence, but he said we might just want to get her wind checked out. She had it done two years ago and it’s not been looked at since.

“It was a lot of weight to give to the winner, who has had a few runs and was match fit. Coming into the race, I said I would be happy if she was in the first three and I think she would have been, but for the mistake at the last.

“We’ll take her home, get her wind looked at and see where we go from there. The plan was to have a look at the Ladbrokes Trophy and I still think that race could suit her, back at Newbury where she has won before.

“I still think she’s reasonably treated and if tinkering with her wind could bring a bit more improvement, that might be the race.”

La Bague Au Roi out early at Perth

Warren Greatrex believes dual Grade One winner La Bague Au Roi has plenty in her favour as she returns to action at Perth on Wednesday.

The talented nine-year-old will begin what is to be her last season in training  in the Weatherbys Racing Bank David Whitaker Handicap Chase.

With the combination of a sound surface and a step back up to three miles expected to suit La Bague Au Roi, the Lambourn handler is confident of a big run.

Greatrex said: “I just thought that she would love the track and it is not a stiff three miles. This is the right sort of race for her.

“She seems in good nick and has come to hand quick. She has got to give plenty of weight away but she is a high class horse.

“She runs well fresh, while she will love the ground and trip, so she ticks a lot of boxes. It is going to be her last season so let’s see if we can start on a high.

“She has lost no enthusiasm at home as she schools well and still enjoys her work.”

La Bague Au Roi failed to hit the heights of her novice chasing campaign during her second over fences last season, however, Greatrex believes there were some positives to take out of it.

He added: “Last season she was not at her best but she might have been having a bit of a hangover as she put everything into those Grade Ones the season before.

“It was a trainer error running her at Wetherby as the ground was very soft. That put her confidence back and she ended up having a hard race when there was no need for it.

“She did run well in the Peterborough Chase and the Listed mares chase at Doncaster. Her best run was probably in the Irish Gold Cup and if she runs like that she will be hard to beat as there is nothing of that class in the field.”

Jarveys Plate, seen winning over hurdles, will bid to get back to winning ways over fences at Perth (David Davies/PA Images)
Jarveys Plate, seen winning over hurdles, will bid to get back to winning ways over fences at Perth (David Davies/PA Images)

Fergal O’Brien hopes Jarveys Plate can rediscover the sort of form that saw him lower the colours of Reserve Tank on his chasing debut at Chepstow last October and get his career back on track.

He said: “After winning first time last year against Reserve Tank it looked like the world could be his oyster but the wheels subsequently fell off and I don’t really know why.

“He seems in good form and I just hope he goes well. He has got a good record fresh, while he won his bumper around Perth. He has got the ability so hopefully he is on a going day.

“Stepping back up to three miles should help him travel better. Warren’s horse will be hard to beat but if we have the Jarveys Plate we have at home he will give her a run for the money.”