Paul Nicholls-trained horses to watch at the Cheltenham festival…
While Paul Nicholls is third on the list of the most successful trainers at the Cheltenham Festival, behind Willie Mullins (88) and Nicky Henderson (72) with a respectable 46 winners to his name, Prestbury Park hasn’t exactly been a happy hunting ground in recent times for the English handler.
Nicholls has fired blanks at the Festival for the last two years in a row as the Irish have largely dominated proceedings thanks to Mullins and Henry de Bromhead, and he boasts just five winners from 94 runners when you factor in the last five years — making for a dire strike-rate of just 5.3%.
As the 2023 renewal of the Cheltenham Festival approaches, there is fresh hope for Nicholls to end his dry spell and he has several solid claims in the horse racing odds to do so over the course of the four days. That said, read on as we take a look at some of the Manor Farm Stables-trained horses to keep an eye out for at this year’s Festival.
Hermes Allen – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Nicholls’ strike-rate in hurdles over the last five years is particularly bleak, with no wins from 38 runners. That might ring alarm bells for some as his shortest runner in the Cheltenham odds is Hermes Allen in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
However, the part Sir Alex Ferguson-owned six-year-old has justified favouritism after stringing together three impressive victories from as many runs this season — most notably winning over course and distance in a Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle in November before landing the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury on New Year’s Eve.
Hermes Allen is shaping up to be a very nice horse, showing improvement almost every time he takes to the track, and he should have enough about him to see off contenders like Gaelic Warrior, Impaire Et Passe and Good Land.
Tahmuras – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
While Nicholls will likely have a few horses going off at around the same price as Tahmuras’ general odds of 12/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in the handicaps, we’re going to focus on the six-year-old as he has potential to be another up-and-coming star from Manor Farm and looks to have a solid chance of winning the Supreme from outside odds.
Tahmuras is also three for three over hurdles this season, winning by eight lengths on reappearance at Chepstow before following up with a Listed win at Haydock and a Grade 1 victory in the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown in January.
5/2F Facile Vega is still the one to beat despite his recent outing at the Dublin Racing Festival when he finished last of the five runners who completed the Ireland Novice Hurdle, but that run proves that the Mullins-trained horse isn’t a machine and makes for what appears to be a more open renewal of the Supreme.
Bravemansgame – Gold Cup
Where better to round things off than with Bravesmansgame? The eight-year-old is Britain’s leading hope of the Gold Cup remaining on home soil for the first time since Native River’s success for Colin Tizzard in 2018 and his odds only seem to be getting shorter as he’s now at around 13/2 and in to third favourite.
Bravemansgame is two for two for fences this season, winning the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on reappearance in October before landing the prestigious King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day by a commanding 14 lengths clear of nearest rival Royale Pagaille.
The Nicholls-trained chaser fits the billing for a Gold Cup winner as well, with four of the last five winners aged eight, all of the last 12 having at least one course run, nine of the last 12 running at least twice that season, 11 of the last 12 boasting at least one win that season and all 12 winning at least one Grade 1.
“He’s run well once before at Cheltenham, so the track is no issue to him and he was just a baby then anyway – he’s twice the horse who ran at the 2021 festival,” the trainer said. “He’s so much stronger and with his two wins this year what more could you want from a horse who’s going into the Cheltenham Gold Cup?
“I’ve got absolutely no concerns in my mind about him staying the distance, he travels nicely and he jumps nicely all of which is what you want. To me he’s got everything you’d want in a horse trying to win the Gold Cup, it’s just down to whether he’s good enough on the day. He’s got a lovely chance and I really am very happy with him.”
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