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


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).


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.


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).

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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent