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.

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living