Denman plans fast-tracked

Nicholls tempted by switch to Cheltenham on Saturday for Gold Cup prep run

Though he was reserving judgement until consulting the horse's owners, later in the week, it was hard to escape the impression here yesterday that Paul Nicholls is increasingly disposed to run Denman at Cheltenham on Saturday. Measuring a bird in the hand against two in the bush, the champion trainer sounded eager to get Denman's final Gold Cup rehearsal out of the way while he has the chance. In fact, he went so far as saying that he'd be "dead keen" to bring forward what is sure to prove a tense ritual, if getting the nod from Denman's co-owners, Paul Barber and Harry Findlay.

The original intention was to keep Denman for the Aon Chase at Newbury on 13 February, back at the scene of two famous wins in the Hennessy Gold Cup, but Nicholls is wary of another freeze intruding on his schedule. And the man charged with preparing Kauto Star and Denman for their momentous showdown is always anxious, nowadays, to ensure his biggest guns get to the Festival as fresh as possible.

"It wasn't really on the radar," Nicholls admitted. "But I've been amazed how quickly Denman has come to hand. He did a really good bit of work on Saturday, by his standards, and he's ready to run. Paul [Barber] has been keen on Newbury, all along, because the horse has always done so well round there. And this Cheltenham meeting does have a history of bad ground. The last thing we would want to do is give him a really hard race. But if we were to get a dry week, it might make sense."

Nicholls admitted himself tempted by the idea of giving Denman an extra fortnight to freshen up before the Festival. "If you do wait for Newbury, and the weather starts being a problem, you'd be getting very close to Cheltenham," he acknowledged.

While Denman might put plenty on the gate on Saturday, he would doubtless have the reverse effect on the four-legged turnout for the Argento Chase. Only 11 entries were made yesterday, including two others by Nicholls, and most of them would presumably sooner wait for the Aon, should a change of target for Denman be confirmed.

Nicholls endured a couple of short-priced reverses on a dank afternoon here, both in races won by Alan King, enjoying an overdue resurgence after a dispiriting season. But Nicholls was not remotely perturbed to see Tricky Trickster beaten at 4-11 in a novice hurdle, his first start for the stable since changing hands for 320,000 guineas.

Tricky Trickster had last been seen running away with the National Hunt Chase at the Festival, when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, and William Hill decided his failure to get to grips with Chamirey in no way diminished his prospects for the John Smith's Grand National. He remains 16-1 favourite.

Nicholls came here because he did not want to run him over fences before the Aintree weights are published, on 16 February. "That was absolutely perfect," he insisted. "Just what I expected. He's not fully fit, and not the type to go over hurdles round a tight track like this. It's just given him a nice blow, and he's going to improve enormously. We're training him for one race, so we might as well try to do it properly. I didn't have him right in the autumn, and suspect he's a spring horse really."

Tricky Trickster is likely to wait only four days after the publication of the National weights before returning to fences, at either Wincanton or Haydock, and could well join Denman and Kauto Star in the Gold Cup after that.

Nicholls saddled The Nightingale to make a striking debut over fences in the next race, and it is easy to envisage this one making his presence felt at the Festival, perhaps in the Jewson Novices' Chase. "He finished distressed in his final two races last season, so we gave him a breathing op and some time off," Nicholls said. "That should do his confidence a lot of good, because he was in a pretty bad way last time he went racing. He wasn't 100 per cent fit and should improve quite a bit, and I suspect he'd want a bit farther, too."

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap Provost (2.20 Southwell)

Finished stone last three times running last summer before disappearing for three months, but showed immediate signs of revival on his return over course and distance last month. Back on a winning mark for a stable in form.

Next best Pliny (1.40 Leicester)

Significantly well backed on his first start of the season, only to be brought down at halfway. Had laid down solid foundations last winter and should relish a test of stamina.

One to watch Grands Crus (D E Pipe) started favourite for an Aintree bumper last winter but never really showed why until sent off at 66-1 for his hurdling debut at Taunton last week, pulling a long way clear of the third in pursuit of a useful winner.

Where the money's going Coral make Solwhit 6-4 to start favourite for a muddled Smurfit Champion Hurdle, from Zaynar on 13-8 and Go Native on 9-2.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate