When you think of Paul Nicholls, the mind is instantly drawn back to his superstar horses Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded, and See More Business, to name just a few. The master trainer swept up all around him when it came to the season’s biggest races back then, with superstars winning pretty much every Grade 1 race on the calendar.
Since then, however, the 12-time Champion trainer has struggled to find horses anywhere near as talented as that team of legends. Nicholls hasn’t won a Gold Cup since 2009 or a Champion Hurdle since 2012, albeit that he has made the King George at Kempton his own through Frodon, Clan des Obeaux and this year’s performance by Bravemansgame. The paucity of success at the Festival however is scarcely credible when you think of his former embarras de richesse.
He has even started to bypass the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, instead waiting for the Aintree Grand National meeting the following month.
Ditcheat has found another gear
But times are changing at Nicholls’ Ditcheat stables this season. He has started to form a formidable squad full of talented young horses now ready to take on the best in the game. Betting markets and the latest betting tips are now full of Nicholls runners, including Bravemansgame with odds of 9/1 for the Gold Cup and Greaneteen available at 16/1 for the Champion Chase. Could it be time for the trainer to hit the summit of National Hunt racing once again at the meeting where it all counts?
Horses such as Bravemansgame and Greaneteen have put the Ditcheat stable back in the limelight this season with their Grade 1 successes and, with the Cheltenham Festival now fast approaching, it must be an exciting time for everyone involved with team Nicholls.
The new star squad
Bravemansgame is Nicholls’ new stable star. A Grade 1 winner as a hurdler, the 8-year-old has come into his own since being sent chasing, winning six of his seven starts. Two of those successes have come at the top level, most recently a 14-length win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton at Christmas.
He is still progressing at a rate of knots over the larger obstacles and has earned a tilt at this season’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Will he prove to be as good as Nicholls’ heroes of the past? We will find out in March.
Another current star of the Ditcheat stable is the Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful, Greaneteen. Like Bravemansgame, Greaneteen has proved to be a far better chaser than hurdler and has been particularly impressive this season with his Haldon Gold Cup win and second-place performance in the Tingle Creek.
He is currently being overlooked in the betting markets for the Champion Chase but he has all the attributes needed for a race of that nature and shouldn’t be disregarded as an also-ran.
With the likes of Pic D’Ohry (Ryanair Chase), Frodon (Gold Cup), and Hermes Allen (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) also among Nicholls’ strong Cheltenham squad, this could prove to be a comeback year for the Champion trainer at the sport’s Holy of Holies.
Seeing these Cheltenham classics without a Nicholls runner over the past few years has been disappointing. There hasn’t been enough home-bred opposition to prevent a trouncing by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Together, Nicholls and Henderson present the best chance of rebalancing the old Anglo-Irish rivalry, and Nicholls old adversary in Lambourn also has some impressive firepower. But this is the strongest team Paul Nicholls has possessed since the heady days of Kauto Star and Denman.
If they prove to be half as good as those two, then the future is bright at Ditcheat.