Why Paul Nicholls Could be Champion Jumps Trainer Again in 2020-21

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HORSE RACING

Such was the way the past National Hunt season panned out for Paul Nicholls that the Ditcheat trainer didn’t even have a runner of the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

When his horses finally did get in on the act at jumps racing’s premier meeting, he ended up with a shock winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Politologue. That race cut up with late withdrawals, but it was a timely reminder that Nicholls is still here.

For a decade, with the exception of one season between 2005-06 and 2015-16, he dominated this sport in the UK. An 11-time champion National Hunt trainer overall, Nicholls has won that accolade just once since that golden period ended but the signs are that the 2020-21 campaign could be his time to shine again.

Paul Nicholls” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06 

It’s not as though he has had barren years when he hasn’t amassed the most prize money. Odds of 6/4 say Nicholls will be champion jumps trainer again and wrestle that crown back from long-time rival Nicky Henderson.

That price reflects the quality and strength-in-depth at Ditcheat. Nicholls trains 10 racehorses with an official British Horseracing Authority steeplechase rating of 155 or higher. They include Cyrname, who despite failing to stay three miles in the King George VI Chase, remains the best jumps horse in the UK.

It is a bone of contention because he won’t be running in handicaps off a mark of 176. Cyrname’s defeat of Altior – previously unbeaten over obstacles – in the 1965 Chase at Ascot was one of the highlights of the campaign.

A subsequent tired fall in defence of his Ascot Chase crown does raise question marks about being officially the best jumper in training, though. Nicholls also has ante-post favourites for two of the biggest and most valuable chases over the winter.

Topofthegame missed this past season with a minor setback, but those who were in-behind him in the 2019 RSA Chase have done plenty to advertise such form in his absence. The Grade 3 staying handicap chase at Newbury best known as the Hennessy Gold Cup is one of the biggest betting horse races in the calendar, and he is 8/1 to land the Winter Carnival showpiece over three-and-a-quarter miles.

Nicholls has hinted that Topofthegame will take “the Denman route” back to Cheltenham. That means he is an intended runner at Newbury despite potentially carrying top weight and may also return to the Berkshire racetrack for a Gold Cup prep run in the Grade 2 Denman Chase itself next February.

Clan Des Obeaux has won the King George at Kempton Park in each of the last two seasons, meanwhile, after coming on massively for a reappearance run. Cheltenham just doesn’t seem to suit him, so Nicholls is targeting a hat-trick in the big Boxing Day steeplechase instead.

Provided he does have a run before going back to Kempton, then it’s easy to see why Clan Des Obeaux is the 5/1 favourite for the three-mile Grade 1 festive feature contest. If Nicholls can get his hands on these prizes once again, then he will likely hold a big advantage in the trainers’ championship.

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