Racing: Nicholls team tries to topple Irish star

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The Independent Online

Paul Nicholls expects next Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase to be one of the highlights of the Cheltenham Festival. The Ditcheat trainer is responsible for second favourite Azertyuiop who will try to topple reigning champion Moscow Flyer.

Paul Nicholls expects next Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase to be one of the highlights of the Cheltenham Festival. The Ditcheat trainer is responsible for second favourite Azertyuiop who will try to topple reigning champion Moscow Flyer.

Azertyuiop was beaten four lengths by the Irish star at Sandown in December, but Nicholls said: "He has improved an awful lot since then. We had a job getting him fit that day after he had come down at the first in his first run of the season at Exeter. I feel he is a lot better now. God willing, they will both stand up and if they do it is going to be one of the races of the Festival."

Nicholls will also be represented by Cenkos and Venn Ottery, although Kadarann will miss out. "Kadarann doesn't run because he has scoped badly," he said. "We have purposely kept Cenkos fresh for the race and, having been third for the last two years, I could easily see him being third again. He is fresh and very well."

Venn Ottery has captured the public's imagination since being sent to Nicholls by owner Oliver Carter, who has backed him at 1,000-1. "Venn Ottery was beaten on Sunday at Market Rasen but he came back out at Hereford on Tuesday and won as easily as you like," Nicholls explained. "I probably shouldn't have run him at Market Rasen - I should have run him at Newbury on the Saturday, where the ground was better.

"It is imperative that he has fast ground as he just struggles with his breathing a bit. If we don't have too much rain I'm sure he won't finish last."

"With respect to Oliver, he has just been messed about with until he came to us and now he is getting the help he has always been looking for from the saddle, he is a different horse. Remember he is still a novice and he would be quite interesting in one of the better novice chases at the end of the season.

"I tried to buy the horse from Oliver but he said I couldn't afford him. So every time I saw him at the races I would tease him about how fat the horse was and how he was feeding him too much porridge.

"I kept telling him that there was a box free for him and one day he gave in and decided to send him to me. His phone calls are a lot of fun. We don't always agree, but it is a pleasure to be training his horse."

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