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Paul Nicholls: Saturday runners at Cheltenham and Doncaster

Ruby rides Zarkandar again today

14:30 Cheltenham - Cristal Bonus

"He may need an Al Ferof-type performance to win this. I actually give him a very fair chance, especially if plenty of rain falls. The softer the better."

Paul Nicholls has a busy Saturday afternoon with runners in action at Cheltenham and Doncaster. Here, he provides the lowdown on their chances... 

12:10 Cheltenham - Far West

Surprised me a little with the manner of his 12 length win from Handazan at Chepstow on his first start for us, but that told us that we had a real good one. And he was really impressive once again when beating Vasco Du Ronceray by seven lengths here next time. That form clearly makes him the one to beat here - in fact, it's the best juvenile form out there - especially as the race has cut up a fair bit, too.


13:00 Doncaster - Rocky Creek

Showed a lot of ability over hurdles last season, winning a Grade 2 at Doncaster, but this winning pointer was always going to be a chaser. And I was very pleased with his debut over fences at Exeter, as I thought that run would really being him on, and it was good to see the winner, Harry Topper, follow up in a good race at Newbury next time. We like our horse, and hopefully he can go one better here.


13:20 Cheltenham - Shooters Wood

I thought he was up against it weight-wise here last time, having gone up 6lb for a couple of placed efforts, but on the positive side I suspected that a return to a left-handed track would be very much in his favour. And so it proved, as he won with a bit in hand. Unfortunately, the handicapper thought so too, and has hiked him up 8lb for that one-and-a-half length win. A bit harsh. That makes like difficult but hopefully he's a progressive horse with more to come and he is really well at home. Ruby is likely to put up 1lb or 2lb overweight on him.


13:55 Cheltenham - Aerial

He looks handicapped up to the hilt in chases, so we thought we would try him in novice hurdles as he is eligible. He has never raced over hurdles for me but if he proves anywhere as capable over them as over fences - where he is officially rated 154 - then he is a big player in this race. I am also sure he needs this trip now, too.


14:10 Doncaster - Criqtonic

He ran a fair race first time up at Ascot and I think the longer trip will suit today. He should run well, but are there better handicapped horses in here? Probably. But this is only his third start for me and these ex-French horses can start to bloom once they have acclimatised, so hopefully he is one of those.


14:30 Cheltenham - Cristal Bonus

Proved himself a real smart novice before his form tailed off for various reasons last season. But reappeared to put up a very impressive performance in winning a Grade 2 at Down Royal. That sees him race off a mark of 157 here, which is clearly a big ask in such a competitive handicap, but he probably deserves the weight and has conditions to suit. Comes here after the Peterborough was called off and may need an Al Ferof-type performance to win this. I actually give him a very fair chance, especially if plenty of rain falls. The softer the better.


Unioniste

I was absolutely thrilled with his third against Dynaste here last time, and I think a mark of 137 is very fair. Harry takes a further 5lb off and can do 9st 9lb, so Unioniste looks to have a lot in his favour. Obviously, this looks a red-hot handicap, and last weekend showed us disappointments can and will happen, but I am hopeful of a big run here. It is a big ask for a 4yo having only his fourth start over fences, but we like him.


14:45 Doncaster - Sametegal

Does all his work with Far West at home, and is a very smart prospect in his own right. Okay, the form of his Wetherby win is nowhere near as good as his stablemate's, but he could only win as he did and everything points to this being a classy juvenile. He has to prove himself on the track, and this is clearly no easy pickings, with so many good horses coming here instead of taking on Far West at Cheltenham, but we rate this horse. In fact, I don't think there is much between him and Far West at home - and nor does Ruby.


15:05 Cheltenham - Zarkandar

Even though he won the Betfair Hurdle and came fifth in the Champion Hurdle, I never thought I had him 100% right last season. But I have this season - he looks great - and I was thrilled with his comeback win at Wincanton, as I had left a fair bit to work on and I thought he would struggle to give 17lb to a fit Prospect Wells. But he did, and the form was further franked when the seven length third Balder Success won at Haydock. So I have to be really hopeful, getting 4lb from Rock on Ruby and Grandouet. But those are clearly top class horses in their own right, and I don't want a muddling gallop here. But I think we have a favourite's chance.


15:40 Cheltenham - Brampour

Has run two solid enough races this season, but he was beaten 14 lengths by Oscar Whisky at Ascot last time and it is hard to see him getting near that one, though this track may suit better and it was nice to see this race only cut up to three runners.


*****


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15 December 2012

Paul Nicholls

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