Nicholls looks beyond his golden generation to stay top of the table

Chris McGrath sees the champion trainer parade his Festival squad

Trainer and patron have even more in common, just now, than the mutual ambition that first drew them together. Both Paul Nicholls and Sir Alex Ferguson keep being told that their respective squads need refreshing, yet both are still able to survey the competition from the summit of the table. The champion trainer, like the Manchester United manager, remains in contention for almost all the big trophies as his season approaches its own climax.

There will be no Stan James Champion Hurdle, admittedly, just as Ferguson sits out the Carling Cup final on Sunday; and Nicholls concedes that What A Friend, turned over in Ferguson's red-and-white colours at Newbury last Friday, has now disclosed limitations that divide him from the very best. Even so, with the Cheltenham Festival just three weeks away, he was yesterday able to reprise a familiar ritual by parading to the media some of the most accomplished jumpers of recent years in Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck's and Master Minded – the latter, for what it may be worth, his choice as best bet of the lot. They were joined, moreover, by several who will be trying to break into the elite in the novice championships. "I read in one of the papers this morning that my subs' bench is very weak," Nicholls said. "But I look at horses like Aiteen Thirtythree and Ghizao, and I wouldn't swap them for anybody else's."

But Nicholls recognises in Ferguson's example the need for ruthless vigilance against complacency; the need to rebuild, even as fresh ribbons are pinned to the chests of loyal veterans. The lead Nicholls retains at the top of the trainers' championship could easily be wiped out by Nicky Henderson on the first afternoon of the Festival. And he acknowledges that Henderson, like Arsène Wenger, has assembled a squad with time on its side. "I suppose some of mine are more like Ryan Giggs," Nicholls said. "Of the up-and-coming types, Nicky has probably got the better team. Obviously if you're competitive, you like to stay top, and it's going to be a bit of a job this time. Last Saturday could prove a bit of a pivotal day, with the prize-money Nicky won, and the cards haven't really gone right for us since January. That's never our month and Nicky had 40-odd winners, which was bound to put him into the driving seat."

Regardless, there will be none of the desperation that disfigured the bitter duels that finally forced Martin Pipe into retirement, five years ago. This is the first time since that anyone has mustered a meaningful challenge to Ditcheat, but Nicholls is candid about the difference. "Nicky and I are mates and, whatever happens, at the end of the day we'll have a drink," he said. What was more, a choice between winning the Gold Cup and the trainers' championship would be "no contest".

His fidelity to Kauto Star is too familiar for any elaboration to be necessary. But while tragedy claimed the star of its youth team at Ascot on Saturday, in Pride Of Dulcote, the stable pins great hopes in precisely such horses as Aiteen Thirtythree and Ghizao – its principal candidates for the RSA Chase and Irish Independent Arkle Trophy respectively. "Ghizao went very nicely in a racecourse gallop with Poquelin yesterday," Nicholls said. "I think he's got an outstanding chance."

Aiteen Thirtythree won by 50 lengths at Newbury last Friday and Nicholls suspects he can help Andy Stewart persuade the horse's other owner, Paul Barber, to press on to the Festival. "Paul has been wondering whether it might come a year too soon," he said. "But Andy's very keen, and I'd say we're winning the argument. This is a gorgeous horse, one of my favourites, a big, scopey type who jumps and gallops. I'm astounded by the progress he has made since last season, when he was looking ordinary, frankly. He's now rated 159, which is 8lb higher than Denman when he won the race, and just 2lb behind Time For Rupert, who's hot favourite. Both Noel Fehily and Nick Scholfield have got off him and said that he felt like one of the nicest they had ever sat on, and I hope they're right. Give him another summer, and I'd like to think we'll be talking about the Gold Cup."

Red carpet unrolled for Ruby's return

Ruby Walsh will be back on the Ditcheat gallops on Monday, for the first time since breaking his leg in November, and Paul Nicholls will be rolling out the red carpet for his No 1 jockey (above). "Ruby's loss has been pivotal, a massive blow," the trainer said. "Things were going well with Noel Fehily, who rides in the same, quiet way, but then he got injured, too. Don't get me wrong, the lads have done well – but they are lads. It's great Ruby will be back in good time for Cheltenham."

* Chris McGrath's Nap San Antonio (2.20 Southwell)

Veteran up another 4lb since finishing second last time, but that run confirmed the impression of a runaway win round here last month that he has discovered a new lease of life on this surface.



* Next best Sweden (3.15 Wetherby)

Flourishing for new trainer, and barely off the bridle to win his first handicap at Ffos Las last time. Initial rating clearly underestimates his potential and he can surely shrug off an 8lb rise.



* One to watch Quel Elite (James Moffatt) started at 100-1 for his debut at Kelso last week but clearly has ability, one of few to get involved from off a steady pace when keeping on well for sixth.



* Where the money's going Bakbenscher is 9-1 from 12-1 with Totesport for the Racing Post Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz