The 2020 Cheltenham Festival: A guide to all of Paul Nicholls' leading lights

Sat 29 Feb 2020

The champion trainer provides the inside track on his team heading to this year's Cheltenham Festival presented by Magners.

Nicholls talks to Bernand Condren about his principal players for The Festival


Race: Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He hasn’t won at Cheltenham yet, but perhaps it will happen in two weeks’ time. Some have said he doesn’t act at Cheltenham, but he hasn’t run too badly there.

He wasn’t beaten much by Whisper in a novice chase there and he carried top-weight, and he was second in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when he was half the horse he is now.

He ran well in last year’s Gold Cup, he was fifth and jumped the last bang there with them, but didn’t quite finish.

I think Clan has got a great chance and I’m quietly confident he will give us a good race.

Listen: Paul Nicholls on his 2020 Cheltenham Festival team

Last year we went to the Denman Chase and we went to Cheltenham. This year we have had a different preparation, as we have worked out he is at his best when he has a run, then a nice gap.

We rode him to the fore last year and this year we will ride him with a bit more restraint, take our time with him and deliver him late.

The key to him is that he is a year older and has had a different preparation. He is very effective when he is very fit and fresh, which is a combination that is lethal.

He looks absolutely fantastic in his coat and did a proper workout with Frodon over two miles at Wincanton on Thursday.

It was part of their prep to go somewhere this week. I was thrilled with how this lad worked – he went particularly well.


Race: Betway Champion Chase

He had a great season as a novice chase and won four races, including the Henry VIII. He then got a leg injury at Doncaster, which meant he missed the rest of the season.

We always had the plan to run him in the Game Spirit en-route to the Champion Chase. For a horse that was having his first run out of novice company and hadn’t run for a year, I thought it was a blinding run to be beaten three and a half lengths by Altior.

He has improved enormously for that run and also worked very nicely this morning at Wincanton.

He is a really lively outsider in my book and won’t need to improve much on the Newbury run to put him right in the mix.


Race: Ryanair Chase

Relive Frodon's brave victory in last year's Ryanair Chase

He was last year’s hero. He is in the Gold Cup, but he is almost certain to run in the Ryanair, unless things change enormously.

He loves Cheltenham, he loves going left-handed and he loves that new course. If it kept on raining, it wouldn’t do him any harm.

He is in a good place with himself and really ready to defend his crown.

He ran in the Old Roan off top-weight, using that as a preparation for the Betfair Chase, and of course all the fences came out and he basically had a gallop round.

Then he completely under-performed in the Betfair Chase and Clifford (Baker) scoped him and found out he had grade four ulcers.

He worked very well with Clan Des Obeaux. He loves this time of year and is exactly where he wants to be.


Race: Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase

He won at Ascot, Musselburgh and at Fakenham last week, which was his third run over fences and enabled me to qualify him for the Grand Annual.

He is now rated 150. He is in the Arkle as well, but that is a tough race and if we think we could win an Arkle, we should go well off 150 in a Grand Annual. A fast-run race will suit him.

Capeland is also on track to run in the Johnny Henderson.


Race: Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Mick Pastor impressed at Ludlow last time out

Mick Pastor joined us in the summer after winning at Auteuil in the spring. We went to Cheltenham with him in November and he pulled very hard, didn’t really go in the ground and it was a bit of a disaster.

We found out he had quite bad ulcers, so we treated him for that, and he went to Ludlow and absolutely bolted in. We’ve kept him back as he has a mark of 140, which puts him in between the horses at the top of the Boodles and the Triumph.

I’ve not spoken to JP’s team to see what they would like to run him in, but I guess it would be the Boodles.


We took a few horses to Wincanton this morning for a two-mile piece of work and he worked nicely. He has had a great preparation (and) if it keeps raining, it will suit him. He is a really lively outsider in the Champion Chase.

He is almost the forgotten horse if you think he wasn’t beaten far last year, and he saves his best race for Cheltenham. He jumped the last virtually upsides Altior and wasn’t beaten too far.

He has come right at this time of year and looks great.

Politologue went close in last year's Champion Chase

He ran very well at Cheltenham in the autumn, when giving 3lb to Defi Du Seuil. We found out that he bled in the Tingle Creek – and we purposely haven’t run him since then with the idea of going to Cheltenham very fresh.


Race: Marsh Novices’ Chase

Paul Nicholls confirmed Tuesday’s Catterick winner Saint Sonnet an intended runner in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival but left open the option of switching to the longer RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase should the ground dry up.


Race: JCB Triumph Hurdle

He will definitely run in the Triumph – we thought he was our main contender before Solo came out last week.

He has progressed really well from a really slow start. He was a bit of a Jack the Lad to start with and he is probably well named, but he has progressed and has got a good attitude and done everything right.

He won an all-aged novice hurdle at Exeter by 31 lengths on New Year’s Day and to make sure that wasn’t a fluke, we took him to Haydock for the Victor Ludorum, and he hosed in again.

He is a progressive young horse. Whether he is in the same mould as Solo is a different matter, but he is a horse who will win a lot of races and will give a great account of himself at Cheltenham – he will gallop all the way up the hill.


Race: JCB Triumph Hurdle

The Verdict: Our experts analyse the Solo's victory in the Adonis Hurdle

He is a beautiful horse and probably the only colt still running over hurdles at the moment. We have been delighted with him ever since he arrived. He is a big tank of a thing and takes loads of work.

He was going to go to Wincanton a fortnight ago – we thought we would start small and work up. That meeting ended up being called off, so we went to Kempton and I’m glad we did as he showed that bit of ‘wow factor’ and we realised just what we had on our hands.

There is loads to work on. He has got plenty of condition and thrives on his work. You would hardly know he’d had a race at the weekend.

He has got a mark of 157, but I think the handicapper must have just got a ruler out and worked out he was 10 lengths in front of the rest and put him up 10lb.

It is quite a lofty rating and he is nearly rated the same as some in the Champion Hurdle. That would be interesting – running in a Champion Hurdle with an 8lb four-year-old allowance – but he will run in the Triumph. We are very hopeful he will go well at Cheltenham.


Race: Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Thyme White has had three runs. He was second to Goshen at Sandown on his debut, he was second at Kempton over Christmas and then won the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh.

He has got a mark of 133, which is fair, and I think we can do something off that mark. He’s an improving horse and I would have said he goes there with a leading chance.

Nicholls is considering an outing in the County Hurdle for Quel Destin following his runner-up finish in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday, with Bryan Carver potentially taking over in the saddle to claim a valuable 5lb.

Of the others, a tilt at the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate is the favoured handicap option for Brelan D’as and Alcala could represent the team in the Foxhunter Chase, with Bob And Co potentially waiting for the equivalent contest at Aintree.

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