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Paul Nicholls: The verdict on my 13 runners at Sandown

Paul has a busy day at Sandown on Saturday
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Betfair Ambassador Paul is looking to overtake Nicky Henderson in the Trainers' Championship, and as a result has a bumper day on Saturday at Sandown...

"He should be well suited by stepping back up to two and a half miles here back in novice company provided this doesn't come too soon after Ayr. Must have a serious chance."

- Paul on Romain de Senam

I realise that to have any hope of overtaking Nicky Henderson in our duel for the trainers' title I need absolutely everything to go right tomorrow.

The chances are that I will come up short, and given Nicky's success in Grade 1 races over the last few months he deserves to be champion.

But it is not over until it is over which is why Team Ditcheat will head to Sandown with all guns blazing. It is the only way we know.

Whatever happens we have had an amazing season with a record number of winners (170) at a consistently high strike rate of 26% with the horses winning £2.5m for their owners.

If we can do the same over the next twelve months I'd be thrilled.

All we have lacked is genuine Grade 1 horses for the biggest prizes and with normal luck they will come along in the next couple of years.


13:50 - Dolos

Has progressed nicely this season, and ran really well in a handicap at Ascot early this month ridden by Stan Sheppard before winning an ordinary race last time. Stan's 3lbs claim comes in handy here as Dolos has to give a fair bit of weight to some promising novices.

He will love the ground, is in good shape and should run tidily.


14:25

Vibrato Valtat

Has been in no man's land for some time as he is not a Grade 1 horse and struggles to give weight away in handicaps.

Although this is more his level he has found life tough this season apart from a cracking run when only just beaten by Vaniteux at Kempton in January.

Vibrato Valtat does need to bounce back from a poor run last time in blinkers at Newbury when he never went a yard. I've put a line through that and am equipping him with cheek pieces again which should help.

Also on the plus side he does run well fresh, enjoys fast ground, usually goes tidily at Sandown and I suspect he is crying out for this longer trip.


Art Mauresque

Started the season well and ran a decent race at the Cheltenham Festival after a winter break before dropping out of contention half a mile from home back at Cheltenham last time.

He looks rather in the grip of the handicapper at the moment and needs a bit of a revival so we are hoping cheek pieces first time do the trick.


15:00 - San Benedeto

Has earned a crack at Altior and Special Tiara after a series of fine victories, most recently at Aintree where he took advantage of the unlucky fall of Politologue at the last fence to claim his first Grade 1 prize.

Obviously he is up against it if the big two turn up at their best but he has won his last four races, relishes the current ground conditions and remains in great heart at home despite a busy schedule.

His sustained improvement in form has astounded us and he has been mad fresh all week.


15:35

Just A Par

Spring is the best time of year for Just A Par who won this race with a stirring late run two years ago and came tantalisingly close to completing the double twelve months ago.

On ratings I'd say those two renewals were much better than this one which has attracted only thirteen runners.

Just A Par is a character with his quirks and for the second year running doddled round Aintree without getting involved in the Grand National.

But he stays well, needs the good, quick ground he gets here and we know he is at his best at Sandown. He is in serious order and must have a great chance.


Present Man

Has had a stellar season as a novice over fences, winning four times on decent ground, and is definitely better going right-handed.

While this is his hardest task to date and he has to prove he gets this longer trip I am encouraged by the way he found more on the run-in at Doncaster in December when challenged by Potters Legend in a Grade 2 Novice Chase over three miles.

I wouldn't rule Present Man out in an open handicap.


16:10

Old Guard

Things didn't really work out for him over fences late last autumn and he has struggled since we switched him back to hurdles. He has had some stiff tasks though and was fourth on his latest start behind the Champion hurdler Buveur D'Air at Aintree.

He needs to step up on that run to be involved here.


Ptit Zig

Won this race impressively a year ago before going on land the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil, so I am hoping he can play a big part again back at a track that suits him so well.

While Ptit Zig has not been in quite the same vibrant form on his last three starts in top company I suspect he just needed his last run at Aintree.

It wouldn't surprise me to see him go close here before heading back to Auteuil for another tilt at the French Champion Hurdle.


Modus

Has progressed well this season, winning the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton with something to spare and then finishing an excellent sixth in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham.

I've had this race pencilled in for Modus since then with the trip and ground both looking ideal for him.

With so much in his favour I do think Modus is the pick of my three and represents one of our best chances of the day. I am really looking forward to running him.


16:45

As de Mee

Has been awesome over the National fences at Aintree this season, winning the Grand Sefton Chase in tremendous style in December before another fine effort just over three weeks ago when fifth in the Topham Trophy when he again travelled notably well.

Bold, accurate jumping is the hallmark of As de Mee though I do worry he has had a busy time this season.


Romain de Senam

Just missed the cut in the Close Bros Chase at Cheltenham which was frustrating as I felt he had bright chance there.

Romain de Senam is a sound jumper who ran very well a week ago in chasing home the smart Vaniteux over two miles at Ayr when he lost ground when he was hampered at a crucial point of the race. But for that he might have gone close to winning.

He should be well suited by stepping back up to two and a half miles here back in novice company provided this doesn't come too soon after Ayr. Must have a serious chance.


17:20

Black Corton

Has done nicely for us this season, winning three times and holding his form well. He won snuggly at Taunton recently and is going the right way.

Although Black Corton's mark is creeping up he should find this race less demanding than giving vain chase to Altior at Kempton in November on his debut over fences.


Pilansberg

Scored over hurdles for the second time at Fontwell eight days ago where he started 25/1 on against a sole opponent and was never out of a canter.

Before that he was left in front before finishing an unlucky second in a boys' race at Ascot.

While this handicap is a much more severe challenge than he faced at Fontwell, Pilansberg is improving, enjoys top of the ground and should go very well in a first-time tongue tie.

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