Champion trainer Paul Nicholls unleashed yet more weaponry from his arsenal on Saturday but this time in the form of bullets, in fact Dodging Bullets.
In a race that the Ditcheat trainer has farmed over years with nine victories since 1999, the Tingle Creek has provided Nicholls with many memorable moments with the likes of stable stars Kauto Star, Master Minded and Twist Magic.
But this time it was the turn of his second season novice Dodging Bullets under stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies to show his credentials and he impressed with an immaculate round of jumping and a decent turn of foot to quicken away from the gallant runner-up Somersby with Nicholls’ other runner Hinterland claiming a creditable third for jockey Noel Fehily.
In a race lacking the star quality of previous years with the injured duo of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy yet to make their seasonal reappearance, you couldn’t help but be impressed with the way Dodging Bullets travelled and jumped from the outset and the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham is very much in the thoughts of master trainer Paul Nicholls.
He said: “I thought he’d win the last day at Cheltenham, but it looked like he needed it.
“He’s always been a hard horse to train as he’s very buzzy. We’ve been hard on him since his last run.
“Today was the best he’s ever looked and he was as fit as he’ll ever be. Horses like him have to be at their very best and he was. The Champion Chase will be our aim now.”
He added: “He’ll get stronger and better and we know how to train him now. We’ll get him at his best at Cheltenham and he should be there with a chance.”
With an embarrassment of riches, Nicholls is quickly turning this season into a procession as he claims big prize after big prize.
Two further Grade Ones were added to his roster on Saturday as not only did he take the Tingle Creek home but also the Racing Post Henry VIII Novice chase too with his quirky novice Vibrato Valtat showing his potential.
Nicholls was quick elect the Arkle as his seasonal target and also quick to point out that his Irish Saint, which was the 4/5 favourite for the race needs to be stepped up in trip.
He said: “Vibrato Valtat is probably a real two-miler.
“Today the race unfolded for him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turned out to be an Arkle horse. He’s got plenty of boot and the faster they go the better for him.
“He’s definitely in the mix for that.”
He added: “I think Irish Saint needs to step up in trip and will get three miles. I might go for the JLT with him and look at running him in the Scilly Isles and those sort of races on the way there.”
Somerset-based Nicholls has credited his sparkling start to the season to a new gallop he’s had installed at Ditcheat.
After already claiming so many big races this year I see no reason to desert him on Saturday as he sends out his impressive Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Caid Du Berlais to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Obviously it’s another ultra competitive handicap chase at the home of jump racing but Caid Du Beralis should be a class above these.
Given that the better ground looks sure to suit and just a 5lb rise in the weights from last month’s victory if he turns up in the same form he should take all the beating and is a good price at 9/2 at the time of going to press.
With just 12 weeks to go till the Cheltenham Festival there is no point sitting on the fence and it’s time to nail my colours to a few ante-post wagers.
Barring an injury or a change of plan from Willie Mullins I can’t see how anything will beat Un De Sceaux in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy on the opening day of the festival.
He is an absolute machine of a horse whose only defeat came last time out on his chase debut when overjumping and falling three fences from home.
However, he was 25 lengths clear that day and any horse can be forgiven overjumping and just pecking on landing.
He will simply jump off and gallop his rivals into submission come the Arkle and I’m certain he will be shorter than the 6/1 that is available at Ladbrokes come raceday.
Un De Sceaux is likely to have one or two more outings before the festival in which he will win comfortably and his odds will shorten dramatically when he wins impressively.
Cheltenham, Saturday, Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Caid Du Berlais 9/2.
Cheltenham, March 10, Arkle Trophy, Un De Sceaux 6/1 (Ladbrokes).