Paul Nicholls has four runners on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, and here the Betfair Ambassador discusses his chances of bagging a winner or two...
"Best Chance: Next Destination - 16:50. He has made a bright start over fences and looks a thorough stayer."
On a fair mark and I'm hopeful of a big run
I've fancied him for this handicap for a while and deliberately kept him fresh for it since he ran a race full of promise on desperate ground in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow early in January. We hadn't had him long and he travelled strongly to the second last before keeping on to finish third. That form is smart and having had a little break he has settled into our routine now. Houx Gris is another who will like better ground, his mark of 128 is fair and I am hopeful of a big run. He is very much in the mould of Diego du Charmil who won this race five years ago.
Has improved tonnes since last run and is not without a chance
He won nicely on his debut for us on good ground at Chepstow but then choked on his next start so had a breathing op shortly afterwards. I had to get one more run into him before Cheltenham but the ground at Wincanton was heavy and he needed the outing badly so he ran ok before tiring late on. Hell Red has improved tonnes since then and will be much happier on the drying ground on Tuesday. He is not without a chance.
Continues to progress and has a solid chance
I spent a long time on the phone on Saturday night with his owner Malcom Denmark weighing up all the options before we decided to go for the NH Chase rather than the Brown Advisory a day later. Three miles on nearly good ground would not be ideal for Next Destination who is a stout stayer, so with Royal Pagaille heading for the Gold Cup it made sense to go for the race that suited us best on what is likely to be the slowest ground of the week. Next Destination continues to progress, jumps soundly and will be galloping on strongly up the hill. Solid chance.
Fresh and well but needs to step up further
Malcolm has a useful second contender in Soldier of Love who made giant strides in the summer and has enjoyed a nice little holiday while waiting for ground conditions to come in his favour. He was rated 113 on his first start over fences for us and is now up to 144 after winning four in a row earlier this season before finishing second to Galvin who is favourite for this race. Soldier of Love was then over the top when he struggled on soft ground in November. While he is fresh and well he probably needs to step up again.