It's a busy New Year's Day for Paul Nicholls as he saddles 12 runners at Cheltenham and Exeter, and here the Betfair Ambassador talks exclusively about his chances of starting 2015 with a bang...
13:55 Cheltenham - Caid du Berlais
"If he returns to his best, and jumps better on this ground then he clearly has a big chance. And we will probably try and ride him a bit handier today."
12:10 Cheltenham - As de Mee
He isn't the most straightforward at home but a hood has seen him improve on the track, notably when winning a handicap at Sandown last time. This is clearly a step up in class but I think the longer trip will suit him, and hopefully there is still more to come. And I think he has progressed at home. There will need to be improvement though, as this is a hot little race.
12:45 Cheltenham - Two Runners
Ran a bit better at Aintree last time and has been dropped 2lb for it. Everyone knows the deal with Mon Parrain now, though. If he is on a going day - as he was when winning here in April - then he is more than capable of winning of a mark of 142, and Sean is taking an extra 5lb off as well. But he clearly isn't the most consistent. We try him in blinkers for the first time to see if that helps.
Just A Par
I was pleased with his reappearance in the Badger Ales but his run at Aintree last time was too bad to be true. At least he has been dropped another 1lb for it, and is now on a very attractive mark if returning to the form of early last season. But he has to show it on the track, as it's been a while now, so that is why we have reached for the blinkers with him, too.
13:20 Cheltenham - Ptit Zig
Doesn't lack pace but we have always suspected that a longer trip would suit him better over fences, and he was very impressive when giving weight and a decent beating to a good one of Nicky's at Ascot last time. I suppose that his stamina still has to be confirmed over 2m5f and this represents another step up in class, but I'll be disappointed if he isn't in the shake-up here, for all that it is a hot race with the likes of Champagne West in opposition.
13:55 Cheltenham - Two Runners
Has run two solid races this season and, dropped 1lb after Aintree and with Sean taking 5lb off, I think that he could now be getting to a stage where he can be competitive in these handicaps. Don't get me wrong, I think he is what the handicapper thinks he is, and a result he is a difficult horse to place, but 2m5f with a bit of cut round here should suit.
Caid du Berlais
Your guess is as good as mine as to what happened at Cheltenham last time, as he was never really going and jumping at any stage and Sam pulled him up after a bad mistake at the water. Given his form in winning the Paddy Power, we were obviously very disappointed with that run, but sometimes you just have put a line through a bad one and get on with it.
And before he made that mistake at the water, he was probably in the same position as he was when winning previously. If he returns to his best, and jumps better on this ground then he clearly has a big chance. And we will probably try and ride him a bit handier today.
14:20 Exeter - More Buck's
Won his bumper here on good ground and ran a promising enough race over 2m5f in the heavy at Plumpton on his hurdling debut. I think this better ground will suit and clearly he is unexposed and open to improvement. But he has to step up a good deal to trouble the likes of Southfield Royale and Brigadier Miller.
14:30 Cheltenham - Southfield Vic
We pulled him out at Wincanton on Boxing Day because of the rain, so today's better ground will suit. Was probably only doing what he was entitled to on form when winning at Taunton last time, but it was still a pleasing performance on ground plenty soft enough for him. A mark of 127 is probably only just fair on the balance of his form, but he is going the right way and you have to give him a decent each-way chance in a competitive race, and maybe a winning one.
15:05 Cheltenham - Silsol
I am never afraid to hold my hands up when I get it wrong - well, not if they have won anyway! - and I was amazed that Silsol was able to win as he did over 2m3f at Newbury first time up. I told everybody that he came in late and would badly need the run, so for him to win as he did from a well-fancied horse of Nicky's with the rest well beaten off was a bit embarrassing to be honest!
But it was also very encouraging, as it confirmed that I have a very progressive horse on my hands. The handicapper has raised him 7lb to 151 so I thought we'd take our chance in this better race. And it is a very good race. We put the cheekpieces back on that he wore when winning last season. This race will tell us if we go to the Cleeve with him next, or a handicap.
15:30 Exeter - Ceasar Milan
Disappointed us on his chasing debut at Newbury back in November, but he had been difficult to get fit and perhaps he just needed it a bit more than we thought. Hopefully he will be much sharper and straighter today and, although he would probably prefer softer ground, he does have form on a better surface. We put cheekpieces on him, too. Whisper is obviously the horse to beat, though.
16:00 Exeter - Two Runners
Was an impressive winner of his only point last season and is a half-brother to our fairly smart Pepe Simo, who won a bumper for us before going on to better things. But will need the experience here - I have an eye on a 3m novices' hurdle for him next time - and I'll be happy if he is in the first six. Runs in a tongue tie.
Is by Scorpion, sire of our decent bumper winner Great Try and smart hurdling prospect It's A Close Call, and is related to winners. But, like my other runner, she will need the experience here before going for a mares hurdle next. Megan takes 7lb off.