By Simon Jackson.
Silviniaco Conti is set to have his first start of the year at Ascot on Saturday where he will face a maximum of seven rivals in the £150,000 Betfair Ascot Chase.
The winner of the William Hill King George VI Chase in 2013 and 2014 was pulled up when attempting to win the race for the third successive year at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The winner of 15 races and over £1million in prize money has entries at Cheltenham and Aintree and trainer Paul Nicholls admits that he is keeping his options open.
“Silviniaco Conti is going to run in the Betfair Ascot Chase which is a little bit of a change in plan,” the nine-time champion trainer said.
“He is not in the Gold Cup, rather the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, though I am not that keen to run him in that.
“He has been entered in the Grand National, though that is a tentative entry this year,” Nicholls said before the weights for the National were revealed this week.
Silviniaco Conti has since been allotted 11st 8lbs for the feature race at Aintree on April 9 where the weights are headed by Many Clouds on 11st 10lbs. The Willie Mullins-trained Don Poli is next at 11st 9lb and dual Irish Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough carries one pound less than Nicholls’ charge at 11st 7lbs.
“He has had a bit of a stop start season,” Nicholls continued. He has had problems with sarcoids (skin tumors), especially the one under his near-side foreleg. It has been a nightmare. He split open this sarcoid when racing at Haydock and for a week or two afterwards he was really, really sore. He did not run as well at Kempton as he normally does and I suspect it was because of that.
“Ever since then, we have concentrated on healing the sarcoid and he has no problems with it now. For the first time this season, I am happy with him and he is not in any pain.
“Hopefully, we will have a great spring with him. There are not many races he can run in. The Ascot race is a Grade 1 and while two miles, five furlongs and is a bit short for him, with the ground as it is, you will need a stayer. He had a racecourse gallop at Wincanton and went nicely.”
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