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‘I think 20-1 is a massive each-way price’ – Nicholls expecting bold bid from Bravemansgame

3 minute read

Paul Nicholls labelled the 20/1 odds generally on offer about the chance of Bravemansgame going one better than when runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year as ‘massive.’

Trainer : Paul Nicholls.
Trainer : Paul Nicholls. Picture: PA Images

A trio of second-place finishes this season – including when beaten last time by fellow Gold Cup contender Hewick in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day - combined with some smart performances from across the Irish Sea, will mean Bravemansgame arrives at Prestbury Park with plenty ahead of him in the betting on Cheltenham Gold Cup day next month.

However, Paul Nicholls, who saddled See More Business, Kauto Star, and Denman to Cheltenham Gold Cup success, believes there were valid excuses for Bravemansgame's performances this campaign and suggested last year's runner-up was 'right back to his best' when speaking to the media at Ditcheat on Monday lunchtime.

"He got beat in soft ground at Wetherby first time out and we then went to the Betfair Chase, again in testing ground, en route to Kempton, so I didn't have a lot of time to get him right for Kempton," said Nicholls.

"To be fair to him, at Kempton, he ran a really good race, and, in my view, he and Shishkin would have been first and second. (Harry) Cobden has got his opinion and Nicky (Henderson) will have his opinion but I don't think there's much between him and Shishkin, to be honest.

"He still got interfered with when Shishkin had his hiccup, if that hadn't happened, he still probably would have won but then he got stopped dead, and then still picked up and galloped all the way to the line.

"Harry thought he ran a solid race; I still don't think we had him at his best because of the circumstances in the autumn. He's right back there now, and he looks great, Harry schooled him on Tuesday, and he jumped good."

A trip to Kempton for a racecourse gallop tomorrow, where he'll work with possible Albert Bartlett participant Captain Teague, is next on the cards as Nicholls puts the finishing touches on his Gold Cup contender.

"He's going to Kempton tomorrow for a little away day when he'll work with Captain Teague," explained Nicholls.

"I'm very happy with him now. I think 20-1 is a massive each-way price. When I look at some of the horses ahead of him in the betting, I think he's great value."

Whilst Bravemansgame found one better at Cheltenham last season, one horse who did score at the top-level in the Cotswolds twelve months ago, Stage Star, will be attempting to get his campaign back on track in the Ryanair Chase.

The Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old produced a fine weight-carrying display when getting his season off to the perfect way in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but he failed to fire in testing conditions when pulled-up in the Paddy Power New Year's Day Handicap Chase.

Although 'not the easiest to train in the world' according to a man who has saddled close to 150 Grade 1 winners, fourteen trainers' championships, four Cheltenham Gold Cups, a Grand

National and the King George V1 Chase an astonishing thirteen times, Nicholls is by no means doubting the ability held by last year's Turners Novices' Chase winner.

"Stage Star won the Turners last year and goes for the Ryanair. He needs to be fresh, he needs to be right and he's not the easiest in the world to train as he has a few little issues but when he is right, he is very good," he said.

"He won the Paddy Power Gold Cup off top weight very nicely indeed, even though he made a horrific mistake at the last, he galloped all the way to the line.

"I wish now I hadn't run him on New Year's Day obviously, but it didn't work out. The ground had gone testing, he had top weight, he made a couple of mistakes, and I don't think he was quite at his best, but I was struggling to find any option in this country to get a run into him because he has to go left-handed.

"He's had a few little issues, he's had lots of physio and he's back where we want him now, he doesn't need an away day because he goes well fresh.

Stage Star, a current 4/1 chance with Paddy Power (NRNB) for the Ryanair Chase, will be joined by stablemate Hitman (16/1 with the same firm), who was last seen finishing second to multiple Grade 1 winner Shishkin at Newbury last month.

"Hitman will also run in the Ryanair but Pic D'orhy will go straight to Aintree. He's a very smart horse, undoubtedly, and I think Banbridge deserves to be favourite (for the Ryanair) based on his defeat of Pic at Kempton.

"Hitman was third last year and is no forlorn hope. He ran well the other day when he wasn't fully wound up, but he jumped the second last upsides Shishkin."

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