Watch expert analysis of the Badger Ales Trophy and read what connections have to say about that race and the Rising Stars Novices' Chase.
The eight-year-old carried 10st 9lb when victorious last November but is burdened with top weight this time round, although he is only 2lb higher in the ratings as he attempts to emulate Swansea Bay, who took this prize in 2002 and 2003.
“Present Man won the race last year and is 2lb higher this year,” said Nicholls.
“He won it on soft last year, although he does like better ground, so it should be ideal for him. He seems in good shape at home.”
Nicholls is pitching El Bandit in at the deep end on what is his first start since he made a winning debut over fences in May 2017.
“El Bandit has been off for a year. He just got a bit jarred up after Warwick, but he is OK now,” he said.
“He is not a novice so I can’t do anything else with him. We have done quite a lot with El Bandit at home, but it is quite hard when they have been off for a year and only had one run over fences. It is a good starting point for him.”
Watch a full replay of how Present Man won the Badger Ales Chase last year
Nicholls has a third string to his bow in Captain Buck’s, who was third over the course and distance behind Aunty Ann, who re-opposes.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is two-handed with recent course and distance winner Bigbadjohn and Belmount.
“Bigbadjohn won there last time so he knows his way round. He has a bit more to do this time,” said the Naunton handler.
“He had a run at Exeter just the other day and was only beaten a head. He’ll be going up the handicap so we thought we’d give him another chance.”
Nicholls is looking forward to giving Secret Investor his first run over fences in the Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate ‘Rising Stars’ Novices’ Chase.
The six-year-old made a successful return to action in the Grade Two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow last month, having had wind surgery since winning his previous start at Kempton in May.
“He won the Persian War last time and this seemed an obvious race to run him in first time over fences,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“I was going to go chasing straight away, but I forgot he was a novice (over hurdles) until November 1 and the Persian War was an obvious race to try to win.
“He has already won a point-to-point so he should be fine. He is a big horse that has just taken a bit of time to develop.
“We tweaked his wind in the summer and it seemed to improve him a bit. We are fine and happy with him and he has done everything right.”
His four rivals are headed by Harry Fry’s Bags Groove, who got off the mark over fences at Ffos Las last month.
Emma Lavelle’s Majestic Moll made a winning chasing debut at Worcester a month ago while Neil Mulholland’s Full has experience over the larger obstacles. Tim Vaughan’s chasing newcomer Theligny completes the quintet.