The Ditcheat trainer saddles key Newbury runners including Clan Des Obeaux, Bravemansgame and Knappers Hill. Dan Skelton also has news of Gold Cup hope Protektorat
Paul Nicholls is “hoping they will all run tidy” as his Ditcheat stable returns from a self-imposed six-day exile this afternoon.
In the wake of a dip in form – the 12-time champion trainer has saddled a below-expectations eight winners from 79 runners since January 1 – Nicholls opted to “regroup” after Greaneteen’s last of five in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last Sunday.
Among a sextet taking part at Newbury today, Clan Des Obeaux seeks to give Nicholls an 11th victory in the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase, Hitman faces three opponents in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase and Bravemansgame bids to carry top weight in the Betfair Cheltenham Roarcast Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.
“We’ve had a quiet spell for whatever reason – I haven’t been able to put my finger on it,” said Nicholls.
“But on Tuesday I ran blood tests on all the ones that are running tomorrow and they have all come back 100 per cent normal.
“They’ve worked well, they’ve had a great preparation, they are eating, they look great and I’m going into it hoping they will all run tidy.”
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Although he has yet to find a cause for some high-profile disappointments – Frodon came home last of seven finishers in Leopardstown’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup a week ago – Nicholls stressed: “No horses in the yard are sick. I haven’t got any coughing or spluttering.
“The trouble is we’ve made a rod for our own back because we’ve had a 29 per cent strike rate this season.
“Then the moment it dips it brings the spotlight on you.”
Nicholls’ former assistant trainer Dan Skelton has revealed plans to give leading Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Protektorat a racecourse gallop.
The spin, with just a few weeks until the March 18 feature, is planned for Saturday week at Warwick.
Protektorat, second the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, went one better with a 25-length win in Aintree’s Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase over three miles and a furlong three weeks later.
Skelton said: “He saw it out at Aintree in pretty soft ground and into a strong headwind.
“We’ve always had it in mind that we’re going to go straight to the Gold Cup, and he will have a gallop at Warwick on February 25.”
Protektorat, part-owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, is the shortest-priced of the home-trained challengers at 8-1.
“The Gold Cup picture is very open,” added the Alcester trainer, who reached a century of winners for the season for the seventh time in a row when Flegmatik lifted the Every Race Live On Racing TV Handicap Chase at Kempton Park on Friday.
“Every time there’s a Gold Cup trial-type race, there’s a different winner.”