Offer on Nicholls designed to trap

Bookmaker to oppose the trainer in eye-catching fashion at Cheltenham

It would be by no means the first time that a bookmaker knew something that punters didn't and most certainly not the first time that one took a calculated risk in luring the mug fish into the net. The Paddy Power firm has offered to return all losing stakes if a horse trained by Paul Nicholls should take the valuable handicap chase run under its banner at Cheltenham on Saturday. Given that the champion trainer has three of the first five in an open ante-post market – Poquelin, Chapoturgeon and Tatenen – the gesture might seem overly philanthropic.

Nicholls, however, has not merely yet to win the two and a half mile contest, in any of its sponsorship guises but has endured such crushing bad luck in losing that the superstitious might talk of a jinx. The odds-makers and publicity machine at Paddy Power think it worth taking the might of Manor Farm on. But a rival firm takes the opposite view, that this year will finally be Nicholls' turn. With Skybet, you can have all three of his charges running for you at one price, 100-30.

Nicholls would not be winning out of turn. Back in 1997, his first runner in the first serious betting feature of the jump season, Cherrynut, ran as a 50-1 shot should, coming in a remote sixth. But his next, Call Equiname, started 3-1 favourite, never went a yard and was pulled up distressed. Eight years ago Dorans Gold was going well coming down the hill but appeared to go wrong and was pulled up, though he won next time out. Then came three consecutive runner-up spots with Poliantas (who, sadly, collapsed and died on the track after his second effort) and Thisthatandtother.

Three years ago Taranis fell two out when going well and two years ago Granit Jack did the same when going even better, but with fatal consequences. He had started favourite, as did Nicholls's representative last year, Silverburn, who made such a mess of the first that he never really recovered.

There were 25 runners left in the Grade 3 two and a half-miler at yesterday's penultimate entry stage. Chapoturgeon, Poquelin and Alan King-trained Tarotino are jostling for favouritism at around 6-1, with Tatenen and the Irish challenger Tranquil Sea next in the lists.

The prize has stayed at home since Bright Highway took it in 1980. Tranquil Sea put himself right in the picture to restore Hibernian pride with a determined defeat of two smart ones, Joncol and Trafford Lad, on his return to action at Naas last month. "We were delighted with that," said his trainer Edward O'Grady. "It was his best run to date and, him being only a seven-year-old, it would be normal for there to be some improvement on that."

In terms of numbers of winners, Nicholls is some way adrift of last year's schedule, with Tim Vaughan, Jonjo O'Neill, Evan Williams and David Pipe ahead of him. But he still has easily the best winners-to-runners ratio; one in four of his Somerset stable's inmates have won. "We're at that crossover time," he said. "Some of them, the ones who probably aren't the very best, we wind up and have ready to go. But you don't want to do that with all of them. The best have their obvious targets through the season and with others, you don't want to blow their handicap marks right away."

One of the best will make a racecourse appearance today at Exeter, though not in anger. Denman will have a gallop on the track before racing as part of his build-up to the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of the month, and afterwards will be present at the opening of the Devon track's new extension. The nine-year-old, hero of last year's Gold Cup, has raced there just once, when he made a winning debut over fences three years ago.

If any was needed, Zenyatta's marvellous Breeders' Cup Classic triumph was a reminder that the true stars of this sport have four legs, not two, and the mere presence of mighty Denman is sure to increase this afternoon's gate on Haldon Hill.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery

*NAP

Megasue (1.00 Lingfield) Unplaced display in the good mares' bumper at Aintree in spring can be ignored as she picked up an injury. Previously won twice against geldings by wide margins and, again in the company of her own sex, can make a winning hurdles debut. Half-sister to Megastar (see below).



*NEXT BEST

Best Oscar (4.10 Exeter) Two miles proved too sharp for this winning three-mile pointer on hurdling debut but a step up in trip and easier ground should see him off the mark.



*ONE TO WATCH

Megastar (G Moore) is likely to be switched to hurdles sooner rather than later after Sandown on Saturday. A big, scopey type, his engine capacity may be gauged by the fact he was capable of working with his stable's high-class Flat stayer Mourilyan.



*Chris McGrath's Nap

High Carol (2.10 Exeter).

PROMOTED VIDEO
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us