Cheltenham treble puts Nicholls back in hallowed winner’s enclosure

Paul Nicholls ended a barren spell at Cheltenham in style as Threeunderthrufive, Yala Enki and Timeforatune landed a treble on the final day of the November meeting.

Magic Saint was the champion trainer’s last success at Prestbury Park at this meeting last season, and while plenty had run well since, none had managed to cross the line in front.

Threeunderthrufive righted that statistic, and earned Festival quotes into the bargain, as he landed a dramatic renewal of the Novices’ Chase.

Adrian Heskin was positive on Threeunderthrufive and while Oscar Elite looked to be travelling ominously well when coming down three out, there was still the hill to be negotiated.

But the 11-4 chance stayed on well to beat Does He Know, who had beaten the winner when both were making their chasing debuts, by four and a quarter lengths.

“He improved enormously for his first run at Chepstow and I thought we’d beat Kim’s (Bailey) horse today,” said Nicholls.

“I was slightly nervous it was only 12 days since he won at Exeter, but it was a small field and you’ve got to try to support it so it worked out nicely.

“I’ve just said to Max (McNeil, owner) he’d be perfect for the National Hunt Chase (12-1 with Paddy Power), with something like the Reynoldstown before it.

“He’s a really strong stayer, Clifford (Baker) my head lad just said he’d run well in a National one day and he might be right, but that’s a long way down the line.

“Someone told me yesterday it was a year since Magic Saint, my last winner, which I hadn’t realised, but that’s how it goes sometimes – it’s nice to be back in here now.”

Bryony Frost and Yala Enki then raised the Cheltenham roof with a gutsy success in the Jewson Click And Collect Handicap Chase.

The 3-1 shot was in the front rank throughout, but his rivals appeared to be lining up in behind to launch their challenges with two to jump.

Yala Enki was not for passing though and while The Mighty Don made a late dash for the Grade Three prize on the far side, Yala Enki dug deep to hold on by a length and a quarter.

Nicholls said: “He didn’t take to the fences at Aintree, so I didn’t put him in the Becher. He’ll have an entry in the Welsh National, but I could just take him straight to Taunton (Portman Cup) as that place is made for him and he’s won it twice already.”

Frost said: “He has an abundance of stamina that you can’t use up, but he’s bizarre to ride as going down the back you think he’s on empty – but when I asked him some questions to keep in the race he found for me every time.

“He came up the home straight with his ears pricked and it’s fantastic as I’ve been desperate to get a good win with him and to get it here is great.”

Timeforatune then scored the final goal of the Nicholls hat-trick when landing the Listed High Sheriff Of Gloucestershire Open National Hunt Flat Race under Harry Cobden at 3-1.

The gelding was a half-length victor and now has three bumper contests to his name, one with previous trainer Brian Eckley, with a hurdling debut likely to be his next appearance.

“He didn’t get the best of runs and I knew it was going to turn into a sprint, you can see that all he does is gallop,” Nicholls said.

Timeforatune secured a hat-trick for Paul Nicholls
Timeforatune secured a hat-trick for Paul Nicholls (Tim Goode/PA)

“He’s done well to get himself out of there and gallop all the way to the line, I’m thrilled with him.

“He’s done with bumpers, he hasn’t done a lot of jumping, I think he’d done nothing before we had him so it’ll be good to start from scratch.

“It’ll be a few months before he runs, it might be after Christmas , we’ll get him jumping and see where we go.”

Of his Prestbury Park treble the trainer said: “It’s great, we hadn’t had a winner so three in a day is brilliant.

“I think that might have just put us at the top of the table above the Skeltons, that’ll keep him on his toes!

“I think that’ll be fun for the rest of the season, it’s great to have the horses going well.”

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.”

Tom Lacey sights set on Festival first with Adrimel

Adrimel will bid to provide his upwardly mobile trainer Tom Lacey with a breakthrough first Cheltenham Festival victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Lacey is consolidating his rise through the training ranks from his Herefordshire base – and Adrimel is his leading light this season, having already registered a first Grade Two success for the yard in January’s Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.

As well as the exploits of Adrimel and his big Grand National hope Kimberlite Candy under rules, Lacey’s name is associated with a string of potential stars – such as Willie Mullins’ top-class Energumene – who have graduated from the nurture of his wife Sophie’s point-to-point string.

Among Adrimel’s stern opposition on Friday, Mullins supplies the well-fancied Stattler from his Closutton powerhouse – one of three Irish challengers near the top of the market, alongside Denise Foster’s Fakiera and Torygraph.

Top British trainers are inevitably to the fore too, with both Paul Nicholls (Barbados Buck’s and Threeunderthrufive) and Fergal O’Brien (Alaphilippe and Ask A Honey Bee) double-handed.

Adrimel will therefore need a clear career-best if he is to succeed Mullins’ mighty Monkfish as the latest winner of Friday’s Grade One novice stamina test – but after his improvement when moved up in trip to two miles and five furlongs for the first time, hopes can be high.

Lacey also put cheekpieces on the six-year-old for the first time then, and is in no doubt they were a huge help.

He said: “The cheekpieces had a huge effect on him last time, because they sharpened up his jumping so much it made life much easier for Richard Johnson and himself.

“It is one of the finer decisions I’ve made.

“I was nervous putting them on such a young horse, but I had to do something to make him more professional in his races.”

Lacey hopes former winning Irish point-to-pointer Adrimel will be well-served by his clean jumping and adaptability too.

“At Warwick he was incredibly accurate – and if he had winged the last he would have won more impressively – but he just keeps digging,” he added.

“He doesn’t have to make it either.

“When he won his bumper at Doncaster, he was dropped in that day. I would much rather have him dropped in the second or third row at Cheltenham.”

Among Adrimel’s rivals, Nicholls is confident stamina will be a huge asset for both his hopefuls.

Barbados Buck’s has been a prolific winner since moving up to this trip

“He’s been really progressive this year – he’s rated 143, and his form just keeps getting better,” said the multiple champion trainer.

“He’s won his last three – the last day at Kempton, he carried a 10lb penalty, he was strong from the back of the last and won nicely.

“He’s a proper staying horse. You need something here that will stay forever, and he’d be right in that. I think he’s so laid-back he will be absolutely fine (stepping up in class).”

Threeunderthrufive must do likewise, having won three times for owners the McNeill Family – who also have Olly Murphy’s Champagnesuperover in the 17-strong field.

Nicholls said: “He’s unbeaten over hurdles, and you wouldn’t know what’s in the locker with him.

“He just does enough and goes along with his ears pricked. He jumps well and will get every bit of the trip – he’s another one with a nice chance.

“This is a nice horse, and they’re very much on a par with each other.”

Alaphilippe has only been beaten once over hurdles and was last seen winning a Grade Two trial for this race at Haydock.

O’Brien said: “Alaphilippe obviously hasn’t done anything wrong.

“He’s four from five. We’d love it if the ground was softer, but it’s not soft. That’s just the way it goes – you can’t do anything about it.

“We would have won, no question (when Young Buck fell at Haydock last time) – Paul (Nicholls) conceded that.

“The margin was a bit bigger, but we still would have won that day, and we’re very happy with Alaphilippe.”

He added of Ask A Honey Bee: “He needs to bounce back from that disappointing run at Doncaster.

“He went into that race as favourite, and the first three or four in the betting all pulled up.

“It was a funny race – I just think they went very quick early on and paid the price for it in the end, and the winner came from behind.

“I just think it was very, very testing ground that day – drying out and very holding – so I think that’s what did us in the end really.

“He ran well in the (Champion) bumper there on nice ground – so it will definitely suit him a bit more.”

Trainer Ben Pauling would prefer the ground to be softer for The Cob, who confirmed his place in the line-up with a nine-length victory in the Grade Two River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster.

“He seems well. The drying ground wouldn’t be in his favour, but they should go a gallop and he stays well, so we’ll see how we get on,” said Pauling.