It's a packed schedule for Paul Nicholls this weekend with runners at Ascot, Wetherby, Down Royal and across the water at Auteuil. Read on for his exclusive thoughts on each...
Won a National Hunt Flat race in the French provinces and made a promising debut for us when third in a 1m5f bumper at Haydock last November, especially as he was carrying a 7lb penalty. Took a while to get over that and was slow to come to hand after Christmas, so we took the patient approach, put him away and kept him as a novice for this season. While his future definitely lies over fences, he has been working and schooling nicely in preparation for his hurdling debut.
Looked a nice prospect when winning 2m1f handicap chases at Newbury and Ascot last season, but things didn't go to plan in his two starts in the spring. I don't think a mark of 146 is that lenient, and he could need further than this trip now, but he is a horse we like and is in good form for his reappearance. Harry takes 5lb off and the softer the better for him. It is very competitive racing at Ascot today, though.
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with his chasing debut at Newton Abbot, though I remember Edgardo Sol being beaten at that meeting a couple of years ago before improving out of all recognition. So let's hope that this one can do the same. And I don't think that he has had his ground yet. He won on good ground in France, and every time I have run him here it has rained! So I hope that isn't the case again here. I don't think a mark of 135 over fences is overly-generous but hopefully he will have learned a lot from his first start over fences and there is more to come from him. Runs in a tongue tie.
Has won at this meeting for the past two seasons, including when beating First Lieutenant by a length in this race last season. That tells you what a high class horse he is on his day. But he is also infuriating as he never seems to go on from there, and his form tailed off badly on both occasions. I have tweaked his training regime this season, so hopefully that may help and he looks well. I was delighted to hear that it won't be too soft at Down Royal, as he is a small horse who wouldn't be suited by a slog.
Dildar disappointed us on his last start at Cheltenham in January, but he wasn't quite right afterwards, so we backed off him for the rest of the season. He looks in good form now though, we know that he goes well when fresh and a mark of 130 gives us options. I think he will go well, but ideally he wouldn't want the ground too soft and this is very competitive.
Saphir Du Rheu disappointed in the Fred Winter but we know he is much better than that. And his earlier win in heavy ground at Taunton tells you that if the forecast rain arrives it will be in his favour. He has summered well and I think he is on a fair mark.
Won this race first time up last season, before going on to prove himself one of the best chasers in the country, failing by only three lengths to give Bobs Worth 6lb in the Hennessy and then winning one of the great all-time races when getting up on the line to win the Lexus. Unfortunately, he picked up a small niggle there that he just couldn't shake off for the rest of the season. He is fine now, but this is a tougher renewal than the one he won last year, he will come for it, and you have to think that At Fishers Cross will be very hard to beat. But he is a top class racehorse - in terms of ability, the best in here - don't forget that, even if he is a 12-year-old. He certainly wouldn't mind if it rained.
Was very impressive when beating Opening Batsman by 11 lengths at Wincanton on Boxing Day, but the runner-up reversed the form in receipt of 9lb in the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton. He wasn't quite right for Cheltenham or Aintree, so we left him alone. I like this horse and I hope he can keep up our superb record in this race. We have won the last five runnings with Noland, Herecomesthetruth, The Nightingale, Kauto Stone and Cristal Bonus, so the pressure is on him! I have had this race in mind for him ever since he came in.
Had a breathing operation in the summer, and this race has been the plan for a while. We kept him busy last season, winning twice and running well in defeat on occasions, and he is a fair horse on his day. He won first time out last season, and I think he is fairly handicapped off 133, with Harry taking off a further 5lb. And I would say 3m with a bit of cut should suit him, too, so I give him a definite each-way chance. He wouldn't want the ground to turn too testing, though.
Although he slightly disappointed us when only managing to finish fourth in the RSA at Cheltenham, you shouldn't forget that he did exceptionally well to do what he did over fences last season given his age. He became the first ever four-year-old to win the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge last December. Yes, that win only came off a mark of 143, with his four-year-old allowance and Harry taking 5lb off, but the manner of his 11 length defeat of Walkon was pretty impressive all the same. And, with another summer on his back, you would be hopeful that he can continue his way up the chasing ladder this season. Whether or not taking on a horse as good as Long Run at this stage of his career, and getting only 4lb, comes a bit too soon for him we will see today. I personally think he is very short in the betting and has a mountain to climb on form! But he certainly goes to Wetherby fit and in good form.
We weren't expecting a great deal from Join Together on his reappearance at Chepstow last month, as we knew that he would need that pretty badly, as we had this as his early-season target. So, he is a lot fitter here and if he came back to the form of his second to Hello Bud in the Becher in heavy ground last season then he would run a big race in conditions - 3m5f in testing conditions - that really should suit him. He isn't the most consistent admittedly, but he is a very smart staying chaser on his day and he goes to France in good form. Ryan Mahon rides.