You can never discount the chances of horses trained by Paul Nicholls at the Cheltenham Festival, even if his squad this year would not have the depth of some past seasons.
The ten-time champion trainer’s team is arguably led by the remarkable Black Corton, who will be partnered by the equally remarkable Bryony Frost in the RSA Chase.
We spoke to Nicholls’s assistant trainer, and nephew, Harry Derham to get his views on the horses runners in the latter part of the week.
Politologue contests the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Can he cause an upset?
He’s been targeted at the race for the whole season so it’s a big day for him. He’s look particularly well and the moment so we couldn’t be happier with him, but it’s obviously going to be a big task for him.
Politologue is a Grade 1 winner this season, but seems largely forgotten for Cheltenham. Do you like being in the position of underdog?
We just focus on getting them to Cheltenham as fit and as healthy as we can, what other people think of them is no concern of ours. We know he has a big engine, we know he jumps extremely well and we know that this has been his aim for a long time. So he goes there and will be ready to run his best race of the season.
Black Corton has also been routinely underestimated. Can he defy expectation again in the RSA Chase?
He’s an amazing horse. Unlike Politologue we didn’t expect him to be coming to the Cheltenham Festival with such a good chance at the start of the season. He’s improved and improved and I’ve given up trying to guess what his limitations are because he’s kept going to the racecourse and performing better each time. Who’s to say he won’t go and improve again? He’ll have to to beat the Irish horses and win the RSA, but I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
What do you put his dramatic improvement down to?
With Black Corton confidence is a big thing for him. His jumping has got a lot better as the season’s gone on. He was very quick and efficient at Ascot in the Reynoldstown and if you jump that well, especially over three miles, you’re always going to figure well in your races. When he first started out over fences he was an okay jumper but wouldn’t really take a cut at a fence. Now he’s very quick in and out of an obstacle and that helps him a huge amount.
How important has Bryony Frost been in the progress Black Corton has made?
Like any good partnership they really believe in each other. He knows when she asks him a question that he can probably do it otherwise she wouldn’t ask. They’ve improved together all season and it’s been terrific to watch.
Topofthegame is a leading contender for the Coral Cup. How do you think he will get on?
He was good at Sandown and he wants the ground on the easier side. He’s a really high-class horse and travelled like the best horse in the race the whole way last time. Personally I think he’s still improving because when he gets to the front he’s still green and babyish as he’s not had many races in his life. The Coral Cup will be a shock to the system as he’s a big boy and inexperienced, but he’s got more than enough class for something like this. Realistically though it’s all about next year and chasing for him.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is a race the stable has done well in before. How far out are horses targeted at the race?
With some you can plan a long way ahead, like with Malaya. Act Of Valour on the other hand was a possible Triumph Hurdle horse after he won first time out. Things didn’t go right for him at Doncaster and then ran better at Musselburgh, so he’s become a Fred Winter horse as opposed to be targeted at the race from a long way off. I think Act Of Valour has a nice chance in the race and the better the ground the better his chances. He’s hardy, having already raced on the Flat, and he’s a slick jumper. I’d expect him to be bang there turning in. What happens up the hill we’ll have to wait and see.
Modus will line up in the JLT Novices’ Chase. Can he step up on what he has shown so far?
He’s not beaten much but that’s not his fault, that’s just how the races have worked out. It’s not liked we’ve dodged anything with him this year – the races he’s run in are the races we wanted to run in, it’s just that no-one has turned up against him. The one serious rival he’s beaten this season is Kalondra and he won nicely at Cheltenham on his next outing. He’s got a terrific engine and we’ll have to see how his jumping stands up in Grade 1 company, although we’d be very hopeful he’d be fine. If he jumps well then he’ll run a very big race in an open race.
Frodon impressed many people with his win at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day. What did you make of his subsequent run in the Ascot Chase and how will he get on in the Ryanair Chase?
He ran well at Ascot but he overraced for as much as two thirds of the race, so he had no energy saved up for later on. His record on the New Course over fences is two runs and two wins so it clearly brings out the best in him. I don’t think he’s necessarily good enough to win the Ryanair, but on softish ground on a course he loves he’s a real solid contender and could easily hit the board.
And, finally, the stable captured the Foxhunter Chase last season with Pacha Du Polder. Can Wonderful Charm do the same this year?
This has been his target the entire season but won’t run if we feel the ground is too soft. He’s really well and worked really nicely last week. He’s a high-class horse and I don’t see any negatives around his chances.