Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls returns with his exclusive thoughts on the season ahead, including a number of new recruits from Ireland, his stable stars and how he will be doing all he can to make Harry Cobden champion jockey...
"Topofthegame is back in work and is being aimed at the Ladbroke Chase, the two mile champion chaser Politologue is in good order and Clan Des Obeaux is likely to go for the Betfair Chase at Haydock before defending his crown in the King George V1 Chase."
Planning ahead is far from straightforward at the moment because of COVID-19, with no-one knowing the exact shape off the racing programme in the months ahead.
I always think that the core jumps season starts at Chepstow's first meeting in the second week of October. It is a fixture I like to target and I am hoping that things will be back to normal by then.
One thing is for sure. Everyone, including me, will be mortified if it doesn't happen.
Then again we are living in challenging times and I can't commend the BHA too highly for getting racing back up and running before any other sport in this country.
They kept their nerve when some unnecessary mud was thrown at them, showed the way forward and did the right thing in letting Flat racing resume first.
Racing has advertised itself well and next week we will be one of the first sports to allow limited crowds back. The issue of prize money is another matter. That does need to improve.
Strong team of horses with new recruits from Ireland
Going into the new season I think we have as strong a team of horses as we have ever had. The two main yards are full, all the stars from last season are back and I am thrilled to welcome back Jared Sullivan who has sent us a nice cross section of a dozen or so horses who were previously trained by Willie Mullins.
I trained loads of top winners for Jared in the past including Zarkandar, Sanctuaire and Silviniaco Conti and it is great to have his support again now that he has decided to have all his horses trained in the UK.
His team includes the top class Laurina (pictured above), who recently had a wind op, Reel Steel, who ran so well In the Gold Cup, Stormy Island, a really good filly, Dolcita who was second in the mares' race at the Festival this year, Eglantine Du Seuil, who won it the previous year, and the 2019 Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres.
Jared has also sent us some really interesting maiden hurdlers while another new arrival from Eire is Malcolm Denmark's Next Destination, a talented horse who has had one or two issues and will be going novice chasing if all goes well.
Stable stars all in good order
Topofthegame is back in work and is being aimed at the Ladbroke Chase, the two mile champion chaser Politologue is in good order and Clan Des Obeaux is likely to go for the Betfair Chase at Haydock before defending his crown in the King George V1 Chase.
Cyrname, who looks fantastic, is likely to head for the Grade 1 three mile Chase at Down Royal which should truly tell us if he stays three miles.
I'm greatly encouraged by a crucial change in the rules that now allow novices who won for the first time over fences or hurdlers after February 1 to remain novices until December 1. That opens up more options for horses like McFabulous, Grand Sancy, Thyme White and Southfield Harvest.
We will do our best to make Harry champion jockey
It was a nice surprise to find my name at the top of the trainers' table last week when you think that at the start of last October I was 23rd in the list with five winners.
With jump racing not starting until this month it is a totally different campaign this time which should help Harry Cobden's chances of being champion jockey. Normally Richard Johnson, Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton are miles clear by the time Harry gets going.
Not this year.
We will have lots of horses to run and will be doing our best to give Harry as many winners as possible.
Great to be back and so much to look forward to
After all the uncertainty following the lockdown in March it feels brilliant to be looking forward to the winter with renewed confidence.
When normal life came to a halt just after Cheltenham our horses were flying and it was frustrating that the loss of the last six weeks of the season cost us the chance of challenging for another championship.
But, looking back now, it probably happened at the right time for jumping yards, and, crucially, everyone involved with Team Ditcheat has come through safe and fine.
I was determined to look after our staff, no-one was laid off, and everyone was paid.
We have had a bit of fun on the flat in the last couple of months including a double at Pontefract with the bonus that both winners were ridden my daughter Megan.
Our squad of around 20 summer jumpers are going well but when the rain comes in October they will be off on holiday and replaced by more recruits for the winter.
Latest 2020/21 Title Odds
Nicky Henderson - 4/9
Paul Nicholls - 6/4
Colin Tizzard - 25/1
Dan Skelton - 25/1
Richard Johnson - 4/7
Brian Hughes - 6/4
Harry Cobden - 10/1
Harry Skelton - 20/1
Sam Twiston-Davies - 25/1
Aidan Coleman - 33/1
Willie Mullins - 1/5
Gordon Elliott - 3/1
Henry De Bromhead - 16/1
Joseph O'Brien - 40/1