Cheltenham Festival 2021: Paul Nicholls preview

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Politologue and Harry Skelton win the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase. (Pic: Courtesy of Cheltenham Racecourse).

CHELTENHAM takes centre stage from March 16 – 19 as the best national hunt horses go head-to-head to contest jump racing’s most coveted prizes.

The Cheltenham Festival provides four days of the best national hunt racing imaginable, all played out on the spectacular setting of the sublime Gloucester racecourse.

Paul Nicholls has won the national hunt trainers’ championship 11 times. He has bagged 43 Cheltenham Festival winners to make him the third most successful Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer, behind Willie Mullins (61) and Nicky Henderson (60).

Those 43 Cheltenham Festival winners include the biggest prize – the Cheltenham Gold Cup – which he has won four times; scoring with See More Business (1999), Denman (2008) and Kauto Star (2007 & 2009).

Last year the Nicholls-trained Politologue won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the feature race on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival. The 10-year-old is reported to be in good order ahead of the same contest this year.

Speaking at The Betfair Cheltenham Preview, Nicholls discussed Politologue and many of his other contenders ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival:

Next Destination

Tuesday, 16:50 Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase
Wednesday, 13:55 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

Paul Nicholls: “We need to look at the ground and the opposition, which is why he is entered into both the National Hunt and the Brown Advisory, and make sure we do the right thing. Harry Cobden can ride him in either race, which massively helps. If the ground is soft, he will prefer three miles, but if the ground is drying, the National Hunt is an option.

“He won at Newbury, staying on well and then he won at Wetherby and nicely. We purposely haven’t run him since in preparation for Cheltenham. He looks exceptional, but we haven’t done an awful lot with him at home, but we’re excited to see what he can do.”


Wednesday, 13:20 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Paul Nicholls: “Bravemansgame has shown plenty of ability at home, and the step up in trip has considerably helped. Two miles was too short and we found that out at Chepstow, when it took Harry (Cobden) about half the track to pull him up. That’s when we realised he needed the step up in trip and the Ballymore is the ideal race. He’s a good, strong galloper and he should give a good run against the two top-rated Irish horses sitting at the top of the market [Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil]. He needed a breathing op in the summer, gave him some time and that has helped him considerably preparing for the Ballymore.” 


Wednesday, 15:05 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Paul Nicholls: “Personally, I think he will reverse that Clarence House form with First Flow. He loves Cheltenham. He didn’t quite get a breather last time out, but he’s in superb order at home and he really takes to the track at Cheltenham. On what we’ve seen at home, he should run his race very well. The pressure is off a little with the heavy favourite [Chacun Pour Soi] but we’re in the race to win it.” 

Real Steel

Thursday, 14:30 Ryanair Chase

Paul Nicholls: “He travelled beautifully in the King George, the way he ran until four out you thought he was nailed on to win.

“He worked really nicely last week at Wincanton. He was a bit flat last year at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup and they didn’t go a great gallop, which didn’t help.

“He should have a much stronger chance in the Ryanair. I think he’ll come on again for next year and will be back a better horse – but he’s not without chance this time round.” 

Barbados Bucks and Threeunderthrufive

Friday, 14:30 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Paul Nicholls: “Barbados Bucks was second in a point to point to Skatman back in April 2019, but has since improved with every single run.

“This year, he was second in a maiden hurdle, before winning at Southwell twice and he’s just continued to progress and impress me. He’s an out and out stayer, and if he’s anything like Big Bucks at the Festival he has the right profile for the race.

“He put the race to bed very well at Kempton under a double penalty and we’re hopeful of a strong performance.”

“Threeunderthrufive came out of Musselburgh so impressively and he’s won three from three – there isn’t much between both horses.” 


Friday, 15:05 Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup

Paul Nicholls: “Frodon absolutely loves Cheltenham. His performances in the King George VI Chase just made it obvious to us that we had to enter him in the Gold Cup. He won cosily in the King George, despite being given a nice lead by the others. We won’t want testing ground, but he loves Cheltenham and Bryony is very much up for the challenge. What a story it would be if Frodon was to win the Gold Cup, right?

“He retains his enthusiasm so well and his jumping has been impeccable this season. I’m convinced he’s got a strong chance. Away from the favourite, it’s very much a level playing field. I couldn’t see him winning the King George, but he went on and did it. So he has every chance and I’m very excited about him.

“It’s unfortunate there isn’t a crowd as that always helps him. He loves playing up to the crowd and is certainly a show boater.”

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