Paul Nicholls: Expect a 'big run' from Dodging Bullets in Sprinter Sacre showdown

Dodging Bullets on his way to Tingle Creek victory
Dodging Bullets on his way to Tingle Creek victory
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Just the three runners for Paul Nicholls at Ascot on Saturday but the day includes the big Dodging Bullets v Sprinter Sacre race and the Betfair Ambassador is confident the Ditcheat horse can rise to the occasion... 

"We go into this race with plenty of hope and Dodging Bullets comes here after a career-best win in the Tingle Creek, is on an upward curve, and he won't mind the ground. His form has tailed off after Christmas in the past, and that is in the back of our minds, but he comes here in great form, I reckon the track will suit, and we have done a few things differently with him this season."

14:25 Ascot - Le Mercurey
 
He had been working well at home prior to his debut for us in the Gerry Fielden at Newbury in November, but I feared that he was badly handicapped off a mark of 149 - Timeform only rated him 136 on his French form - and so it proved.

Obviously there was much more to the Newbury disappointment than his handicap mark, and I think that was the 2m trip and the fact that he needed it more than I thought he would, though I did say in this column he would definitely improve for the run.  

The handicapper has dropped him 5lb and he steps up in distance today, which are positives, so hopefully he can show us a lot more today and confirm the promise that he obviously showed in France. But he is very much a chaser in the making for next season, and he could well need this after his break, too. And he is such a good-moving horse that I think that he will be better on better ground. A lot of people assume that these types of horses need testing ground after winning in heavy in France, but that is often not the case.  

15:00 Ascot - Dodging Bullets
 
A lot of people are saying this race is all about one horse. And they would probably be right if this race was two years ago, because if Sprinter Sacre returns to anywhere approaching the form that he showed when winning at Cheltenham and Aintree in 2013 then he should win this. Remember, he was rated 188 at his best and Dodging Bullets is currently only rated 165.

But it is nearly two years since those performances now and Nicky's horse has it to prove after his heart problem - though I've had a few that have come back fine from similar problems, not least Denman - and he probably won't find the testing ground ideal first time up.

But he has to start somewhere. And I can tell you it will be a great training performance from Nicky if he does win here, and an awesome performance from his horse. So we go into this race with plenty of hope and Dodging Bullets comes here after a career-best win in the Tingle Creek, is on an upward curve, and he won't mind the ground. His form has tailed off after Christmas in the past, and that is in the back of our minds, but he comes here in great form, I reckon the track will suit, and we have done a few things differently with him this season.

For example, we have kept him fresh after the Tingle Creek - and win, lose or draw this will be his last race before Cheltenham  - and we treated him for ulcers in the summer and we put a tongue tie on him for the first time since Aintree 2012 at Sandown last time. I'd have liked to have done that sooner but he has only just calmed down enough to let us put it on. I'm confident of a big run, and I'd like to think that he will be the one to find any chinks in Sprinter Sacre's armour these days.

15:35 Ascot - Rebel Rebellion
 
On the whole, he has been a little disappointing this season, and he was well below par at Wincanton last time. But at least he is slowly slipping down the handicap as a result and if he does return to the form of his Grand Sefton win or his Newbury second last season then he is weighted to go very close. Will love the ground, and Jack takes a handy 7lb off, too.

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