With less than three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls provides the latest plans for all of his runners at Prestbury Park...
"Le Prezien has plenty of decent course form at Cheltenham and has gone gone close there twice this season in competitive handicaps before a mistake put paid to his chance at the track last time in December. He will appreciate drier conditions, the trip is ideal and he is going to pop up one day in one of these big handicaps."
Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase
I'll need to have a look at the weights before making any firm decisions on a few of the handicaps. At this stage Adrien Du Pont and Movewiththetimes are possible runners in the Close Brothers Chase but Tommy Silver is more likely to wait for the Grand Annual on Friday.
Movewiththetimes has been in the money on all three starts over fences at Cheltenham. A smart hurdler, he was always going to be a chaser, jumps soundly and I'm sure there is better to come from him.
Adrien Du Pont has faced some stiff tasks since he won on his debut over fences. He likes to get on with things but should be competitive off his mark if we can settle him off the pace in a strongly run race.
This has been the target for the prolific Black Corton since Xmas when he took his score for the season over fences to eight with another fluent success in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last Saturday. In seven of them he has been ridden by Bryony Frost who gets such a great tune out of him. Black Corton continues to amaze me because I didn't appreciate how good he was early in the season but I do now.
His coat looks stunning, and he is bouncing again after Ascot and we will head to Cheltenham with high hopes that he can see off a strong Irish challenge.
Of my six entries in this the progressive Amour De Nuit could possibly take his chance. He's consistent and reliable, stayed well on the flat when trained by Sir Mark Prescott and this might be the time to step him up in trip over hurdles.
I entered Topofthegame in the unlikely event or the course getting torrents of rain in the days before the race and he will not be going to Cheltenham unless the ground is seriously testing.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Politologue has answered every call this season until brushed aside by Altior last time at Newbury which was disappointing. While he remains in good heart and will improve for that run after a short winter break I appreciate it is going to be hard to turn the form round with Altior at Cheltenham.
But it is a different day on a different course on different ground and we will be giving it a proper crack with Politologue.
Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle
We've done well in the past and look like having two runners Act of Valour and the mare Malaya depending on how she performs at Kempton on Saturday.
Act of Valour is progressing nicely, travels well in his races, and I was encouraged by his run into second place behind the highly rated We Have A Dream at Musselburgh.
Malaya won impressively at Aintree before failing to handle heavy ground at Aintree that was almost unraceable. We have freshened her up since then.
If Grand Sancy squeezed into the race at the foot of the weights he could run, too.
Modus is on a mark of 156 and has won three from three of his four starts over fences so this is the logical target for him. He was bought to be a chaser, is definitely going the right way and I loved the way he winged the last fence to seal victory at Kempton recently. He has to have a nice chance.
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
This has long been the target of Connetable who has been knocking on the door all season, was unlucky to be caught close home at Sandown in December and more recently stayed on strongly when not beaten far at Musselburgh earlier this month.
Connetable doesn't hold many secrets from the handicapper in this fiendishly difficult handicap but he's in top form at home and we know he will be keeping on dourly at the finish.
Ptit Zig could join him in the line-up but first he needs to qualify for the race by finishing in the first six at Chepstow on Saturday.
Frodon could well go for this though its possible I'll sidestep the Festival with him and keep him fresh for Aintree.
He has been a brilliant flagship for the yard, won a competitive handicap at Cheltenham by seventeen lengths and then finished third to Waiting Patiently at Ascot on Saturday when he lost any chance of winning by going too hard over the first mile.
Old Guard has an entry here and is likely to run though it depends a bit on how he goes in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday. He's hard to place as he always has to carry lumps of weight in handicaps and isn't quite good enough to beat the best in Grade 1 company.
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate
Le Prezien and Romain De Senam are the most likely to run from our nine entries. There is a good prize in Romain De Senam who will be suited by drying ground and needs to go left handed. He started the season very well and is in good form at home after a mid winter break.
Le Prezien has plenty of decent course form at Cheltenham and has gone gone close there twice this season in competitive handicaps before a mistake put paid to his chance at the track last time in December. He will appreciate drier conditions, the trip is ideal and he is going to pop up one day in one of these big handicaps.
I've got several in here including Amour De Nuit and Brahms de Clermont but haven't made any firm plans yet.
Saphir Du Rheu was beaten only just over six lengths in the Gold Cup a year ago and is an intended runner again. We have been playing catch up with him since he injured himself when falling in the Grand National in April.
That's why he didn't run again until finishing last of three behind Native River at Newbury early this month where he travelled with enthusiasm before tiring in the last half mile.
He will strip much fitter at Cheltenham.
We won this with Pacha Du Polder a year ago and look like being four handed this time.
We've had a little hold up with Pacha Du Polder which is why you haven't seen him this season until Wednesday at Doncaster. He will come on a bundle for his run there.
Wonderful Charm was only just run out of it in this twelve months ago and will be ridden by top amateur Sam Waley-Cohen whose father Robert now owns a third share in the horse. Wonderful Charm won easily at Musselburgh recently and look the pick of my quartet.
My ex-handicapper Virak qualified for this race by winning at Haydock last weekend. He jumps and stays well and goes there with a good chance.
Unioniste will be ridden by his enthusiastic owner David Maxwell who, I'm pleased to say, is fit again after injuring himself in a fall a month ago.
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
We have nine in this but again it is too early to be sure which of them will take part.
The smart novice Dolos runs in this and is likely to be joined by Tommy Silver. I was thrilled with Dolos last time at Sandown where he would probably have won but for stumbling on landing at the second last.
The form looks solid, he's only run three times over fences, and two miles looks the right trip for him at this stage of his career. Tommy Silver is another of mine crying out for better ground and we've freshened him up since he was third behind Cyrname at Kempton over Xmas.