Paul Nicholls explained on Monday afternoon why Daryl Jacob will ride Bravemansgame for the first time in the £200,000 Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday, while the outstanding staying chaser’s regular rider, Harry Cobden, will instead be in action at Ascot.
The best horse in the champion trainer’s Ditcheat yard has been ridden by the stable’s No 1 jockey in each of his 18 races under Rules. They have combined to win three Grade One prizes together and also finished runner-up in a memorable renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Most in the sport would have assumed that the partnership would remain intact for one of the biggest races of the season but three weeks after a narrow defeat in the Charlie Hall Chase, where a mistake at the final fence proved costly, the combination will go their separate ways. Cobden has admitted to disappointment that he will not be aboard.
Nicholls says Cobden will have six rides at Ascot, including likely odds-on favourite Pic D’Orhy in the £70,000 Grade Two 1965 Chase. The jockey has ridden the eight-year-old, one of many Johnny de la Hey-owned horses trained by Nicholls, in his past 11 races.
De la Hay's silks may also be carried by Blueking D'Oroux, Samarrive and Welcome To Cartries at Ascot on Saturday. This trio are also trained by Nicholls. Like Bravemansgame, Pic D’Orhy is engaged in next month’s Ladbrokes King George VI Chase. The pair are quoted at 13/8 and 20/1, respectively, with Bravemansgame officially rated 10lb superior.
“Harry’s got to go to Ascot, he’s got six good rides there including Pic D’Orhy,” Nicholls said on a Zoom call with the media hosted by the Jockey Club. “It wasn’t an easy decision but it’s sometimes good to let someone else have the ride because if ever you need a reserve in the future you’ve got one.
“That’s the decision we’ve made and that’s what Bryan’s (Drew, owner) happy with so that’s where we’re going.
“We’ve always had Pic D’Orhy in mind going to Ascot, Johnny’s (De la Hay, owner) got 15 or 16 very nice horses in training with us and he needs looking after.
🗣️ "He can't be in two places on the same day."— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 20, 2023
Paul Nicholls explains the stable thinking on Harry Cobden heading to Ascot on Saturday and Daryl Jacob getting the ride aboard Bravemansgame in the Betfair Chase pic.twitter.com/jdzZamYbEo
“Harry is very important to Pic D’Orhy, probably more so than the other way round with Bravemansgame. Sometimes when you’ve got big meetings on a Saturday you have to make tough decisions that are right for everybody.”
Nicholls is one of the best and most open communicators in racing, but clearly found some lines of inquiry exasperating through the day. He bristled at any notion that Cobden will not be on the star chaser in next month's King George.
“There’s no question about that. Harry’s the stable jockey but he can’t be in two places on the same day,” he said. “Of course he’ll ride him again.” He repeated that in an interview with Nick Lightfoot on Racing TV later in the afternoon.
Cobden told the Racing Post: "When you have a horse like Bravemansgame you don't want to see anyone riding one of the best of 'your' horses. It's a tough one for any rider to see the best horse in the yard ridden by someone else, but Paul and the owners have got a plan and that's what they want to do, so they have my full support.
"I'm disappointed I can't be in two places at once but I've got plenty of nice rides at Ascot that I'm looking forward to. None of those horses are a Bravemansgame, but they have some really good chances. Johnny de la Hey is the biggest owner in the yard and I wouldn't want to let him down either.
"Paul's won more Grade Ones than most people and he knows exactly what he's doing. Bryan is an understanding owner and a top man, and everyone wants what's best for the horse."
Bravemansgame is not guaranteed to run on Saturday, with his participation hinging on underfoot conditions. "Heavy" features in the present going description but a mostly dry week is forecast.
Jacob unexpectedly gets an opportunity add to the three Betfair Chase victories he secured aboard Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai.
It represents a return to the fold at Ditcheat for the 40-year-old, with Jacob once stable jockey to the champion trainer, riding Cheltenham Festival winners aboard Zarkandar and Lac Fontana. He has ridden 179 winners for the yard but has had only one ride for Nicholls since the start of last season.
“Bryan (Drew) who owns Bravemansgame is quite keen for him to run and he has come out of the Charlie Hall very, very well. I think he will take a step forward for it," Nicholls said. “The Wetherby run will have done him a lot of good as he hadn’t been for a racecourse gallop or anything like that and I hadn’t really trained him hard as we knew there were bigger targets down the road.
“He has come on enormously for that run and Scott (Marshall) who rides him every day is delighted with him.
“He is older now and there is still a month to Kempton and with the Betfair Chase being a valuable race, he will go there if the ground is not too bad.”
Bravemansgame is one of six confirmations for the first Grade One of the UK season.
Nicky Henderson had spoken all summer of targeting Shishkin at the race, with the King George VI Chase his main aim in the first half of the season, although he now also has the 1965 Chase at Ascot as an alternative option.
The trainer said at Exeter on Monday that Shishkin was 60/40 to head to Ascot because of likely better ground.
Last year’s winner Protektorat has had the race as his big target and will attempt to join the likes of Kauto Star and Cue Card as a multiple Betfair Chase winner.
Grand National hero Corach Rambler has been left in by Lucinda Russell but he will need to take a huge step forward from his seasonal reappearance at Kelso. Royale Pagaille (Venetia Williams) and Minella Drama (Donald McCain) may also run.
The Betfair Chase - Betfair Odds: 6-4 Protektorat, Bravemansgame; 3-1 Shishkin; 7-1 Corach Rambler, Royale Pagaille; 40-1 Minella Drama.
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