Dodging Bullets has some hard acts to follow, including Master Minded and Kauto Star, after becoming Paul Nicholls’ ninth winner of the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday, but the champion trainer insists he is made of the right stuff.
With Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy sidelined with injury, this was a decidedly non-vintage renewal of this Grade One event, and it took even less winning when the classy Oscar Whisky, the winner of 16 of his 28 starts, fell fatally before halfway.Dodging Bullets was left to beat the old soldier Somersby, but he did what was necessary in pleasing style to earn a 14-1 (from 40-1) quote for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival next March.
Nicholls said: “I’ve always thought he would be a Champion Chase horse this season. We’ve done a few things to improve him – you never stop learning in this game.”
This was another important triumph for Sam Twiston-Davies, who, after an indifferent start, has now bedded in nicely as Nicholls’ stable jockey. “It was tricky early on, but this is the flip side of the job and it’s amazing,” the 22-year-old rider said.
The Grand National fences are not as fearsome as they used to be, but they still take some knowing, and experience counted for everything as Oscar Time, the oldest horse in the race, added the Becher Chase to an already impressive Aintree CV.
Placed in both the 2011 and 2013 Nationals, but largely ignored here at 25-1, the teenager was as spring-heeled as ever under Sam Waley-Cohen, an amateur rider with a pretty good record himself over these unique obstacles.
“That’s his fifth win - it’s quite extraordinary,” said Waley-Cohen’s proud father, Robert, who decided that Oscar Time had “still got it” after training him to win two hunter chases last May.
On another outstanding Saturday for Nicholls, Sam Winner toughed it out under Nick Scholfield to win the Listed chase over Aintree’s conventional fences and now disputes favouritism for next year’s Grand National. Leading Cheltenham Gold Cup fancy Holywell blotted his copybook when unseating his rider in the back straight.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham is live on Channel 4 Racing on 11 March.
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