Paul Nicholls Exclusive: I'll give myself a 'B' at mid-season but we know we can do better

Betfair Chase and King George winner Silviniaco Conti is almost certain to go straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Betfair Chase and King George winner Silviniaco Conti is almost certain to go straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Join today View market

Before Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls jetted off for sunnier climes on his well-deserved holiday, he spoke exclusively about how the season has gone so far and what the early plans are for some of his stable stars...

"The star of the season so far has obviously been Betfair Chase and King George winner Silviniaco Conti and he will now, almost certainly, go straight to the Gold Cup, where he will hopefully banish memories of his head-scratching run in the race last season."


January is traditionally a very quiet month for us - the horses have their flu vaccines, the ground tends to be at its worst, and this is the time of year when trainers give their Cheltenham and Aintree horses a mid-season break - and this weekend underlines that.

Indeed, Hawkes Point at Warwick is our only runner, and I can't ever recall sending out just the one weekend runner before, in the heart of the season at least.

So it is a good time to reflect on the 2014-15 campaign so far - and I have been very pleasantly surprised by how well it has gone.

I said back in October that I was up against it in trying to retain the trainers' title in such a transitional year for Ditcheat.

So for us to have already won over £1.5m in prize money - and that is without factoring in Zarkandar's Grade 1 win in France and the fact that three of our four runners in good races in Ireland were placed - is great news for Team Ditcheat.

But bigger challenges lie ahead, so there is no hint of complacency here.

The star of the season so far has obviously been Betfair Chase and King George winner Silviniaco Conti and he will now, almost certainly, go straight to the Gold Cup, where he will hopefully banish memories of his head-scratching run in the race last season.

He was superb at Kempton, the cheekpieces have really made a difference, and he is now just beginning to get the credit his performances deserve.

But behind him there has been an impressive support team, with Dodging Bullets taking a Tingle Creek, Caid Du Berlais winning a Paddy Power, Irving a Fighting Fifth and a 100th Grade 1 success for Ditcheat before pus in a foot saw him disappoint at Kempton, Unioniste putting himself in the Grand National picture when winning at Sandown last week - or maybe ruling himself out of it after going up 11lb! - Sam Winner confirming himself a live Gold Cup outsider with his Lexus run, and King George third Al Ferof giving us a nice headache as to what Cheltenham race to go for.

And while Zarkandar just lost out at Ascot last time, he had earlier won a very valuable Grade 1 in France and it is all systems go to the World Hurdle with him.

And that is without mentioning Wonderful Charm, Rocky Creek, Bury Parade, Rolling Aces and Black Thunder, who are all chasers rated in the 150s and very smart on their day.

I was particularly chuffed with the recent win of Mon Parrain, who is probably one of our better adverts for first-time headgear - along with Conti - after his Cheltenham wins in cheekpieces, and then blinkers.

But what pleases me more than anything are the youngsters - the future - that are coming through, and of course the two reformed characters in Mr Mole and Vibrato Valtat!

I joke when I say reformed characters. I know many have labelled them as ungenuine in the past, and they are not straightforward, but I think people are too quick to dismiss these types of horses.

As with Tidal Bay, there is very often a physical reason why horses don't seem to be putting it all in and I like to think that we have found the key to Mr Mole - one of our four horses entered in the Champion Chase at the recent entry stage along with Al Ferof, Hinterland and Dodging Bullets - and Vibrato.

And, touch wood, we look to have a very strong hand in the novice chase department.

Henry VIII winner Vibrato Valtat could have been unbeaten over fences and goes to Warwick next, Irish Saint looked very impressive when stepped up in trip at Ascot, and the likes of Solar Impulse, Virak and Southfield Theatre have shown a pretty high level of form, too.

Arguably the star of the novice chasers so far has been Ptit Zig, and we will sit down and make a plan for him in the coming weeks. The JLT is obviously on the cards but I can see him staying 3m, too.

And don't forget the likes of Far West, Ceasar Milan and Saphir Du Rheu, and plenty more that I have probably forgotten to mention.

Some people have mentioned that the latter may be better off going back over hurdles after his two mishaps over fences, but I reckon that he is a Gold Cup horse of the future, so it is up to me to get his jumping sorted out and him in the top novice races come the end of the season. He looked pretty good when getting it right at Exeter, after all.

But I will add that we are giving some consideration to running him in the Cleeve, though it is no more than that at this stage.

We may be lighter than usual in the novice hurdle and juvenile division so far but we still have some cards to play there - and remember Zarkandar didn't make his debut for us until the end of February before winning the Triumph three weeks later - and I think we have some decent prospects in the shape of the mares Tara Point and Lifeboat Mona, as well as San Benedeto, Arpege D'Alene, Emerging Talent, Ibis Du Rheu and Aux Ptits Soins to name just seven!

And I'm looking forward to seeing Calipto in the Betfair Hurdle, too.

So while there have been some disappointments and near-misses along the way - Benvolio just getting touched off in the Welsh National, a year after Hawkes Point, was hard to take! - I'd give our mid-season report a "B - can do better".

You always can.

Remember, so far we have only had the mock exams, and the proper tests await in March and April.

And that is what January is about. Building, planning, assessing and preparing for the big days down the line.


Join today View market

Discover the latest articles