Paul Nicholls Cheltenham Festival 2023 stable tour – Racing TV

Paul Nicholls is always looking to the future and he underlined that message on his press morning on Monday – not just to the Cheltenham Festival in little more than a fortnight's time but to next season, when the 13-time champion trainer expects even more to come from several of his exciting Festival prospects.
Yet Nicholls would love a winner at the great meeting next month and it's been a while since his latest one, with 45 runners sent out from Ditcheat without success since Champion Chase triumph for Politiologue back in 2020.
But he looks to have his best team for a few years this time, with Bravemansgame the headline runner – and one that holds plenty of stable confidence – in the feature Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, with this size of this year’s squad from Ditcheat set to number around 16 or 17 runners in a significant increase on just the nine that Nicholls sent to Cheltenham last year.
Nicholls has trained winners at 18 consecutive Cheltenham Festivals this century and has 46 in total. Yet while clearly no stranger to top-level success, victories have undeniably proven more sparse in recent years, perhaps magnified by the embarrassment of riches housed at Ditcheat earlier this century with the likes of Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s.
Nicholls has trained four winners in Grade One races at the Chelteham Festival in the last decade, but he might have four runners go off at single-figure odds in such races this time and Silvinaco Conti in the 2014 Gold Cup is the last time Nicholls had a runner at shorter odds than the current 11-4 quotes about his Ballymore favourite Hermes Allen.

"There are horses with chances," said Nicholls. "It's very tough, incredibly hard to win races there. I think Bravemansgame has got as good a chance as any of them in any of the races."
That would certainly mark a mwmorable Festival for Nicholls, who shared the inside guide on his 2023 Cheltenham Festival team with the assembled press at his Manor Farm Stables in Somerset.
Race: Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Odds: 8-1
He's done nothing wrong all this year.
I don't think he was right last spring, like a lot of ours. Last year he was very light and he just didn't look right in the spring. We recauterised his palate in the summer, he’s had some time and he's twice the horse and looks great.
We didn't make the same mistake running him again between Kempton and Cheltenham – he’s brilliant fresh and brilliant very fit. We learnt a few things about him last year and I think we’ve got it right with him now.
One thing he did at Kempton was that he stayed on really strong when not getting the best passage at all really. Horses that can win a King George win Gold Cups and I think he’s one of our best chances of the week.
He's probably our best Gold Cup chance since Kauto. With Clan Des Obeaux and Silviniaco Conti, we always had little issues and doubts about the track. I read somewhere Bravemansgame didn’t act on the track – he’s had one run and was third in the Ballymore as a six-year-old. You couldn't have done any more than run really nicely.
It's going be like any, it's the Gold Cup, you don't know – you turn in to the second last and the best horse on the day and the horse that stays the best wins. I don’t know how he will travel up that hill, but it was the same with Kauto Star. We’ll see. I think he’s in great shape, in a great place and I think he’s got a lovely chance.
I’d love to win a Gold Cup again, it’s what we all do it for. He won a good King George this year and if you'd seen a picture of him last year there would be no comparison, he’s much bigger and stronger and in a much better place. We’re hopeful.
Race: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Odds: 11-4
We didn’t run him last spring because he was quite backward and slow and he surprised me first time out at Stratford. He won very nicely at Newbury on heavy ground, which I didn't think he wanted but he was about the only horse to have the ability to go through it. Everything that’s finished behind him has won since and everything that pulled up won up since, so it's turned out to be a very good race.
He’s obviously got a huge amount of ability. I'm excited about him going to Cheltenham but I'm as excited about the future for him to go chasing next year. He’s working nicely now, he’s in good shape. He’s in the Albert Bartlett as well but I always thought two a half is ideal for him. It’s a very good race and the Irish have some good hroses in there, but he’s got a great chance. He’ll be ridden forward and he’s a lovely horsr.
We’re not having too many runs because we didn’t feel we needed to run him again after the Challow, and we can run him again at Aintree or maybe even somewhere afterwards.
He's done very well, he keeps on winning and hopefully he’ll go very close. He’ll be a lovely chaser next year and Cheltenham is not the be all and end all but he’s in a good place at the moment and working nicely.
Race: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Odds: 25-1
This is a nice horse. He's not that far behind Hermes Allen, he's just had one run less. He won nicely at Newbury in November and Lorcan (Williams) would probably say to you it probably wasn't his best-ever ride the last day at Doncaster when he was second in a Grade Two novices' hurdle – he got into trouble from the start, got in trouble all the way up the straight and still stayed on and finished second.
I think there's a lot to come from this horse. He stays and gallops and with a bit more luck in running he probaby would have won the last day, it was just one of those that got away.
He jjst lacks a little bit of experience; I'd have liked to have given him another run but it hasn't really worked but I think he's one of the best big-priced outsiders that we've got and I think there's a lot to come from him. He'll be a lovely chaser next year.
Race: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Odds: 12-1
He looks fantastic and has won three from three this year.
He's surprised us a little bit to honest with you, we thought he was a nice horse last year but we never dreamt that we would be going for a Suprme Novices’ at Cheltenham. He won the Tolworth despite the ground, it was heavy and he didn’t really enjoy it that much but he had enough ability to win it nicely.
I won the Supreme twice with Al Ferof and Noland, who weren’t horses that were going to go on to be Champion Hurdlers, they were going to be staying chasers and he’s very much the same as them. I see him in the same mould as those two horses but he’s got a lot of ability and he’s right in the mix in an open race.
Race: Turners Novices’ Chase / Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase Odds: 12-1 / 14-1
He's been a grand horse this year. He won great first time up at Wariwck but he didn’t go particularly well at Newbury at the November meeting – he just hung, didn't jump and I just think he is one of a number of horses who found the ground very fast that day.
He went to Plumpton after Christmas and made all and won really nicely under top-weight at Cheltenham. We’ll just see what the ground does – if it’s very much on the good side I wouldn’t be afraid to go for the Brown Advisory because I think he will get three miles, he stayed on strongly last time. If it's on the slower side, we can go in the Turners. We’ll make a plan enarer the time but he’s a progressive horse and won very well the other day. These are good races though and you can run really well and run a blinder and finish third or fourth.
Another summer on him next year and he’ll be a really smart horse for the better chases over here.
Race: Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase Odds: 33-1
He ran at Newbury the other day, was red-hot favourite and got beat, so he’s gone from about 12-1 to 33-1. But actually two years ago he ran exactly the same race at Newbury, the same thing happened, he drifted out and only ended up just getting beat at Cheltenham.
The ground was far too firm for him the other day to be hoenst with you, he never lety himself down, he never jumped and was far too keen, blew up and then stayed on strongly. Before he ran in the Haldon Gold Cup we had him really, really ready to win. The other day he wasn't, it was a prep for Cheltenhsm and it doesn’t work with him doing it like that.
He'll have come on a ton for that and it would be no surprise to me if he ran really well and finished third or fourth. Cheltenham suits him a bit better than Newbury and he’s well capable of running a really tidy race. He’ll give a good account of himelf before going to the Celebration Chase at Sandown on the final day of the season.
Race: Ryanair Chase Odds: 22-1
He was second in the Denman Chase the other day when he quite blatantly didn’t get three miles and middle distances are ideal for him.
He’s the sort of horse who could run well in the Ryanair. He's always thereabouts, managing to be second or third. He hasn’t won that often but I think he probably overperforms and he’s run in all those good races, jumps really tidy and so he could easily run into a place or run really well.
If Shishkin performs like he did the other day he will be unbeatable. I thought Pic D'Orhy would win and he probably ran a career-best, but Shishkin was brilliant. If he’s in the same form whatever else runs there will be going for places I think, but he’s won here, jumps and travels well and will hopefully run a nice race.
Race: Festival Plate Odds: 10-1
He won the handicap on Trials Day really nicely and in first-time cheekpieces that day because I think he’d just been keeping a little bit for himself and been a little bit green. He might well have won one of those good handicaps earlier in the season if he hadn't missed the last both times. He stayed on really strongly and went up 8lb for that but I still think he’s good enough to go close off that mark.
I think next year he could be a horse that could end up running in the Ryanair Chase. He loves Cheltenham, he’s only young and improving and I think there’s plenty to come from him over the next few years. He’s a nice horse and hopefully he’s got a leading chance.
Race: Martin Pipe / Coral Cup Odds: 16-1 / 14-1
He’ll definitely get in the Martin Pipe; I have not seen the weights for the Coral Cup yet but I think last year he would just be on the limit of getting in. If he can get in the Coral I’ll run him in that because obviously Harry can ride him, but if not he’ll run in the boys’ race.
He's a really progressive horse and won with a bit in hand at Ascot the other day. Those big four-year-olds off the Flat just take a little bit of time. He was OK last year but no more than OK and he's taken a huge step forward this year because they’ve grown up and he’s mde into a really nice horse now. I thought before Ascot the other day he might have just needed a Flat track but he put that to bed there.
Race: Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Odds: 20-1
It's been a bit of a rush to get him ready but won at Taunton first time and then won a Listed race at Musselburgh on his second start. He got a mark of 124 which I thought was quite a nice mark. I ran him at Haydock last week to qualify him for the Boodles and he didn’t run that great and finished sixth.
I ran him a bit too soon, but my hand was forced a bit as I had to have that third run. We have a couple of weeks now to decide whether we go; if he doesn’t go to Cheltenham he could go to a juvenile novice handicap at Ascot a couple of weeks after that.
I just need to see if I can get him back to his best but he’s a little bit like Irish Hill, who last season was an OK four-year-old off the Flat, and after a good summer and a bit more time he's just gone forwards. Horses like him ad Rare Middleton will jjut go onwards and upwards next season when they’ve had a good summer. He’s got loads of potential but I'm rushed a bit to get him to the Boodles, we’ll see.
Race: Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Odds: 25-1
We don't have too many in the Bumper – one of the last ones might have been Al Ferof, who was second to Cue Card.
He’s a real nice horse by Doyen and won a point-to-point in Ireland last year vry impressively. We took him to Plumpton just before Christmas and he hosed in. I’m not saying he’s going to win the Cheltenham bumper or anything like that but I'm running out of options to give him another run this season before he goes hurdling next year. The ground is going to be safe in that early part of the week, it’s probably going to be good to soft, so we’ve got to go somewhere with him so we’re going to let him take his chance.
If he finished 5th or 6th I'd be absolutely deligted with him and he'll be a lovely horse to go novice hurdling next season. We probably don’t wind them up quite so much to run in bumpers, but he’s a tough horse and it will do him good to have a nice run and he could run a tidy race. If he was an Irish horse he’d probably be 10-1 or 12-1, but because he’s an English horse he’s probably 25-1. He's a lovely horse and one for the future.
Race: Ultima Handicap Chase Odds: 10-1
He's probably got a nice chance in the Ultima in the race that his owner Max McNeill sponsors.
He won four novice chases last year and got a mark up to around 155, which I think is far too high. Still after a couple of runs this year he’s ony dropped down to about 150. He got beat I don’t know how far in the Classic Chase at Warwick and he got dropped 1lb. I think he’s still got it all to do at the weights.
Having said that, he won at Cheltenham last year and he likes nice ground and he's definitely not without a chance, but he could just do with being a few pounds lower. He's in the National after that but I think it's a year too soon for him, but let’s see what happens at Cheltenham. He's more likely to run in the Scottish National or the Bet365 Gold Cup – more likely Ayr, I’d say.
Race: Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Odds: 25-1
He’s always brilliant fresh – and lets you down second time!
He won very well at Ascot in October in a valuable two-mile handicap chase, travelling beautifully and absolutely bolted in. He was then favourite for the £100,000 race at Ascot three years later and then ran no race at all.
I thought 'keep him fresh all winter' and let’s have one go at the Grand Annual with him. He’s having an away day in Lambourn tomorrow with Greaneteen.
Why his record is so good fresh I couldn’t tell you, but he looks great and hopefully he’s in there with a chance. These races are so competitive and you need everything to go right, but I definitely think he's got a nice chance.
Race: Martin Pipe / McCoy Contractors County Hurdle Odds: 12-1 / 20-1
He had a little setback and I don't think he runs. I would probably have run b at Kelso on Saturday but I might have to wait until Aintree with him.
Race: St James’s Place Hunters’ Chase Odds: 10-1
Probably one of our best chances of the week.
He will be ridden by Natalie Parker who won on him at Bangor – she couldn’t ride him the other day at Kelso after she got concussed in a poit-to-point so Charlie Sprake took over – so he’s had his two runs to qualify for Cheltenham.
It was 18 months or so ago that he beat Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase but he sadly broke down that day. He was never going to win off a mark of 156 so owner Clive Hitchins, a big hunting and point-to-point man, said see if you can qualify for Cheltenham and we'll give him a couple of years hunter chasing.
He won two races and both times he got dropped 7lb, so he’s at a more realistic mark now. He’s done all his top-class racing but hunter chasing for these older horses gives them a second life really. He’s 11 now and hopefully he’ll give Nat a great ride. He’s been a good horse and has got to be in the mix. He's not unlike Pacha Du Podler who was a good horse who dropped down the weights. He could run really nicely.
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