With the start of the National Hunt season just around the corner, Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls returns to preview the campaign ahead and provides the inside track on his stable stars...
"I have high hopes of Politologue though I can't make up my mind whether he wants two or two and a half miles. He has loads of speed and jumping ability so by holding on to him you are not using his best assets to advantage"
The jaunty success of Moabit at Salisbury on Monday has set us up nicely for a busy weekend of jumps action at Chepstow where I could have plenty of runners if the ground is OK. While I've enjoyed getting a bit more involved on the flat this summer, jump racing remains my core focus.
I always think this two day meeting at Chepstow is the starting point for the season proper. We are choc full of horses and ready to rock and roll after a summer that yielded 27 winners over jumps by the first of October.
Everyone in the yard is upbeat that we can enjoy another fruitful campaign though it is a relief in some ways to be seen as the underdog this time with Nicky Henderson a hot favourite to be champion trainer again.
Because we've won the title ten times people seem to think we are going to do it every year but Manchester United couldn't manage it every season because it's an impossible ask.
Results all depends on the players they have or in my case the horses we have.
The biggest clubs like United regularly turn over players and we turn over our horses, too, bringing in bright new talent. We have definitely had our fair share of success at the highest level. Ten years ago we had all the stars which was wonderfully exciting.
While I know we will never have a collection of horses like that again you always have the desire to find more like them and we do have a beautiful team of young horses though until we run then we will not know exactly what we have got. Hopefully some will surprise me like Denman who showed me nothing at home until he won so easily on his debut at Wincanton.
Naturally I hope that a few of our youngsters can become the stars that we have lacked for the past two or three seasons. Only time will tell.
We ended last season with 171 winners, by far our best total, but it wasn't quite enough to retain the trainers' title. To be in with a chance until the final day was a pretty good achievement given that we had only one winner at Cheltenham and one at Aintree.
It just shows what you can achieve by chipping away at prize money week after week. We nearly did it and now need fewer than 200 winners to reach the landmark total of 3,000.
My head lad Clifford Baker and I are always tweaking things and never stop learning as we seek to improve our success rate.
The more I do this job the more I realise that fitness counts but as I tell all my staff Rome wasn't built in a day.
I've gone off the idea of doing too much serious galloping with the horses at home. They don't need that. I prefer to give them lots of hard graft so that they are fit enough to run well first time or win but will improve for the outing.
For the record my own fitness has definitely improved this autumn after I started riding one or two lots each morning for the first time in 20 years. I've lost a bit of weight, feel better for it and watching from horseback has given me a useful new perspective on what goes on around me.
I am also ever mindful that if our promising young squad of horses is going to last then we can't be too hard on them in the early stages of their careers.
Juveniles and Novice Chasers to look out for
We have around 15 juveniles to go hurdling, including the smart ex French pair Malaya and Sao, plus some recruits from the flat in Ireland such as Bird of Prey, Kings Inn and Act of Valour.
Four year olds to note include Some Man, The Dellarcheckout, Dr Rhythm, Stradivarius Davis, Worthy Farm and Mont Des Avalors. Then there is a really exciting bunch of novice chasers including Diego Du Charmil, Modus, Topofthegame, Movewiththetimes, Adrien Du Pont and Capitaine.
Life is bound to be harder this time round for Frodon and San Benedetto who both did brilliantly last season and are now rated over 150. I have high hopes of Politologue though I can't make up my mind whether he wants two or two and a half miles. He has loads of speed and jumping ability so by holding on to him you are not using his best assets to advantage. I might start him in the Haldon Gold Cup and make a plan afterwards.
Stable stalwarts Dodging Bullets, Silviniaco Conti, Rocky Creek, Aerial, Ulck Du Lin, and Sam Winner are all enjoying life in retirement with friends who have given them a nice home.
One interesting recruit is Binge Drinker who beat Might Bite, no less, on his first start over fences before a training setback put him on the sidelines. He is a smashing horse, rated 148, who could develop into a Grand National candidate.
Flat has been fun but jumps remains my passion
Next year, for the first time, I will also be training a handful of two-year-olds. We have bought four yearlings already and have an order for one more.
Once again we have a top team of jockeys headed by Sam Twiston-Davies with Sean Bowen and Harry Cobden sharing the number two role now that Nick Scholfield has moved on to pastures new.
They are backed up by our talented conditionals Bryon Frost, Stan Sheppard, Henry Morshead and Alexander Thorne, and a strong group of amateurs including Will Biddick, Lorcan Williams, Matt Hampton and Harriet Tucker who will be riding Pacha du Polder this season. Lizzie Kelly is also riding out here regularly and should be getting chances when we get busy.
I've loved my involvement with the flat this summer, especially with my daughter Megan riding them. She is a tidy rider, has had 33 winners on the flat and is good value for her 5lbs claim.
We've had four winners from twelve runners at a strike rate of 33% which is highly encouraging. I've always thought I could do well on the flat when I finally got round to it and would be thrilled if someone sent me a couple of half decent staying horses who maybe needed a change of scenery.
I know we would do a decent job with them but at the same time I don't want to get too keen on the flat because jumping remains and always will be my passion.
We caught up with Paul down at Ditcheat this week where he gave us his Five to Follow for the new season