All eyes on Real Steel as talented chaser makes debut for Nicholls

Paul Nicholls believes Real Steel could be an “interesting” recruit for his yard as he prepares to make his debut for his new trainer in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

Nicholls has won the last two renewals of the Grade Two, with Politologue in 2018 and Cyrname in a fascinating contest 12 months ago in which he inflicted a first defeat over obstacles on Altior.

While it might be fanciful to suggest this year’s four runners can match that race for drama, they are nevertheless classy operators in their own right.

Real Steel was the last horse off the bridle in the Gold Cup, Imperial Aura was a Festival winner, Itchy Feet won a Grade One as a novice last season while Black Corton reserves his best for Ascot.

“While I am still learning about Real Steal I do think he could be a really interesting recruit after joining us this season from Willie Mullins,” said Nicholls.

“I thought he ran a cracker in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he was bang there at the last fence before weakening up the hill.

“Though I haven’t been hard on him he is fit and I’ve given him an entry in the King George.

“This trip should be ideal for Real Steel who is better going right-handed according to Ruby Walsh. I can’t wait to see how he gets on.”

Black Corton gives Nicholls a second string to his bow.

Black Corton get on extremely well with Bryony Frost
Black Corton get on extremely well with Bryony Frost (Richard Sellers/PA)

“He is a regular at Ascot and after a summer wind op he wasn’t as ready as most of ours when fourth in a handicap at this track under top weight three weeks ago,” he told Betfair.

“I thought he ran very well in the circumstances and will improve for it.

“This trip of two miles and five furlongs will be fine for Black Corton who is so genuine and doesn’t have to carry any penalties.

“Although he has a bit to find with a couple of these he is capable of running a big race. They will have to work very hard to get past him.”

Following his win in the Scilly Isles Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet was well fancied for the Arkle at the Festival but he was a relatively early casualty. He was third on his return in the Old Roan at Aintree.

“He’s in good form. We’re chucking him in at the deep end a little bit, but we’re happy with him and hopefully we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going after Saturday,” said Murphy.

Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura barely put a foot wrong on his return to action at Carlisle, but this represents a big step up in class.

Nicholls also holds a strong hand in the Coral Hurdle with another former Mullins inmate in the shape of Laurina.

Laurina now has questions to answer
Laurina now has questions to answer (Julian Herbert/PA)

However, while Real Steel moved stables on the back of arguably a career-best effort, Laurina now has plenty to prove having been beaten on her last three outings.

“She is a top-class mare who was sent to us this summer,” said Nicholls.

“Laurina had issues with breaking blood vessels last season and this looks a perfect starting point as she doesn’t have any penalties and with the mares allowance she gets weight from all her rivals.

“I’ve done a lot of hard, steady work with Laurina without galloping her too much and she looks amazing at the moment.

“While I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go very well I’m sure she will benefit from the run.”

Laurina faces just two rivals – Nicky Henderson’s Call Me Lord and the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone, last seen winning the Kingwell Hurdle in February.

“He improved from race-to-race last year, but he started rated 136 which unfortunately he’s not this year,” said Symonds.

“There’s a lot to look forward to with him, he’s in good form but it’s going to be tough. If the old Laurina turns up it’s going to be very tough.

“He’s there on merit and he’s run well over course and distance before and then went and won the Kingwell and in doing that he might have shown a dynamic I didn’t think he had, as I always viewed him as a two-and-a-half-miler.

“He’s still very young, we had the option of fences but he only turned five the day he won the Kingwell.

“Paul made it very clear when he got Laurina from Willie Mullins that it is going to be hard for her, she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Paul has already done well with the horses he’s got from Willie, but in the nicest possible sense I don’t think I’d like to get a horse from Willie Mullins – she’s been a fantastic horse.”

Ascot is starting point for Nicholls’ new recruit Laurina

Laurina remains on course to make her stable debut for Paul Nicholls in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.

The former Cheltenham Festival winner, one of a number of horses switched by owner Jared Sullivan from Willie Mullins to Nicholls over the summer, features among six entries for Saturday’s Grade Two contest.

Laurina failed to sparkle last season, winning just one of her three starts over fences before being switched back to hurdles, but the 11-time champion trainer believes the extended two-mile-three-furlong test is an ideal starting point.

Nicholls said: “I’m looking forward to running Laurina. She has been a bit of a challenge, but she appears in good shape.

“We’ve got to start her off somewhere, and it’s a nice little starting point. She doesn’t get any penalties and gets a mares’ allowance. She could be quite interesting.”

The entries are completed by last year’s runner-up Call Me Lord (Nicky Henderson), Goshen (Gary Moore) , Tea Clipper (Tom Lacey), Song For Someone (Tom Symonds) and Indefatigable (Paul Webber).

Real Steel is one of four entries left in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday (PA Images)
Real Steel is one of four entries left in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday (PA Images)

Gold Cup sixth Real Steel, who like Laurina has joined Nicholls from Mullins, is one of two entries for the Ditcheat handler – along with Black Corton – in the Grade Two Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase.

He said: “I think a middle-distance trip will be the ideal place to start him. A right-handed track seems to suit him, looking at his form. He is in good shape, and we are looking forward to him running.”

Looking beyond this weekend, Nicholls has not ruled out giving Real Steel an outing in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, for which he is a general 16-1 shot.

Nicholls added: “He  would be a King George possible. He ran well in the Gold Cup – going to the last he looked like he might win, but he didn’t quite get up the hill.

“You would say three miles around Kempton would suit him very well.”

Completing the quartert of entries are the Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura and Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet.

Paul Nicholls: Best of the rest

Paul Nicholls nominates some in his yard it may pay to keep onside this season:

Fidelio Vallis

“He won two novice hurdles at the end of last season. The plan is to run him in a Listed novice hurdle at Kempton next weekend, then go to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power meeting. He took a while to acclimatise last season like a lot of the French horses do.”


“The plan is to go for the Charlie Hall and he is in good shape. We want to campaign him a bit more over three miles this season, as that is what he definitely wants. He just wasn’t quite good enough last season and has probably lost a gear as well. He has won a Cotswold Chase over three-one and I think three miles is his trip now.”


“He is a nice horse and the plan is to go to the Haldon Gold Cup. He ran very well at the Cheltenham Festival in the Grand Annual and he did nothing but progress last season. I could see him running in a Tingle Creek if he progresses.”


“I’m starting him off in the Persian War at Chepstow. I could either then find another novice or go to Newbury, which is what I really want to do, for the Long Distance Hurdle and then see how good he is. Last year he was big and weak, but he is much more mature now. He had a fall schooling then first time at Chepstow a horse fell in front of him and it just didn’t go right, but he ended up getting well handicapped for the EBF Final. In my mind I can see him being competitive in a Stayers’ Hurdle. He is a high-class horse.”

Next Destination

“He has had the best part of 18 months off since he won at Punchestown. We are on top of everything at the moment and if we keep him sound he will be a very nice novice chaser as he has schooled well. He could go to Fakenham for a three-mile novice chase.”

Real Steel

“I’m told he is better right-handed and his form suggests that, but he did run well in the Gold Cup where he looked a non-stayer. I think we will start him off in the Christy 1965 Chase that we won last year with Cyrname. To me he is a Ryanair horse. “

Saint Sonnet

“He ran well at Cheltenham having only won at Catterick the time before. I will give him a run over hurdles somewhere then he will have an entry in all the good two-and-a-half-mile handicap chases, including the Paddy Power, which might be a nice race for him.”


“We will start him off at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle and go from there. He has been gelded during the summer. He was very good at Kempton in the Adonis, but he got lost a little bit round Cheltenham in the Triumph and he may have been over the top. He will improve this season as we have started from scratch with him.”