Talking Horses: Nicholls title hopes raised by Henderson Kempton doubts

Greg Wood
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Sixteen winners and a 39% strike-rate in October have pushed Paul Nicholls to the top of the market for the 2020-21 National Hunt trainers’ championship and his prospects of claiming the King George VI Chase at Kempton for the third year running also improved on Monday, when Nicky Henderson, his perennial rival for the title, suggested that his leading chasers Champ and Santini are far from certain to line up for the Boxing Day race.

The two horses were third and fourth respectively in the ante-post betting on Monday morning at around 8-1, but were pushed out to 12-1 by Paddy Power after Henderson said that both could bypass Kempton on the way to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Clan Des Obeaux, meanwhile, is 7-2 (from 4-1) to give Nicholls a third successive win in the race while his stable companion Cyrname is 10-1 (from 11-1).

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Champ’s last-gasp win in the RSA Chase in March was one of the most memorable moments of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival but he needed every yard of the trip and the hill to get home, and the Savills Chase at Leopardstown is being considered as an alternative.

“Champ is not quite as far forward as some,” Henderson said. “We have just looked at his wind but that is all sorted now, however he is a little bit behind the others in the A-squad.

“I don’t think he will go to Sandown for the intermediate chase [in November] and we aren’t that keen on the idea of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, and I don’t think Kempton is really his track either. The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree [in early December] is a possibility, and there is a serious chance he could go to Ireland for the Savills Chase at Christmas.

“We are trying to get Santini ready for the Betfair Chase at Haydock [in November]. I don’t think he will go to Kempton for the King George, because when he got beaten in the Feltham [Novice Chase in 2018] I didn’t think it was his track that day.”

Nicholls won his 11th trainers’ championship – four short of Martin Pipe’s all-time record – in the 2018-2019 season but surrendered the title to Henderson in the truncated 2019-20 season, which ended just a few days after the Cheltenham Festival.

He has made an accelerated start to the current campaign, with 32 winners since July and £255,000 in prize money, while Henderson, who is again expected to be his only serious rival for the crown, is only 11th in the early table with £101,000 in the bank.

Henderson was a 4-9 shot to retain the title in July with Nicholls available at 13-8, but the respective odds are now evens and 8-11 going into the two-day Showcase meeting at Cheltenham which opens on Friday and is, for many, the moment when the National Hunt campaign begins in earnest.

The Flat season, meanwhile, will draw to a close without its top-rated horse after the announcement on Monday that Ghaiyyath, whose relentless, front-running style carried him to three Group One wins over the summer, will miss the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland in Kentucky on 7 November and retire to stand at Kildangan stud in Ireland. The five-year-old was found to be showing signs of muscle soreness after a routine workout at Charlie Appleby’s stable in Newmarket over the weekend.

Ghaiyyath, who has now been retired to stud, cruises to victory in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July under William Buick.
Ghaiyyath, who has now been retired to stud, cruises to victory in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July under William Buick. Photograph: Mark Cranham/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday’s best bets

There are two turf cards on the schedule, and thanks to the British climate’s quirky sense of humour, the going is good-to-firm for the jumps card at Exeter and soft, heavy in places on the Flat at Yarmouth.

The field sizes are a little disappointing down in Devon as a result, with Twasn’t The Plan (4.00) perhaps the pick of the prices in what is quite a competitive six-runner handicap chase. At Yarmouth, meanwhile, the each-way thieves will be circling as two of the handicaps currently have 16 runners (and it was three until a 33-1 shot was scratched from the last race on the card).

Whitehaven (2.35) is a short-priced favourite for the first of them having won at the track, and on similar ground, eight days ago, but Mistress Nellie, with Hollie Doyle in the plate, is likely to be a popular each-way pick: she is currently 8-5 for a place on Betfair but 12-1 at ¼ the odds a place with Bet365.

Yarmouth 12.25 Thunder Drum 12.55 Glesga Gal 1.25 Abilene Paradox 2.00 Inver Park 2.35 Whitehaven 3.10 Fox Shinji (nb) 3.45 Selecto 4.20 True Belief 4.50 Leo Davinci 

Exeter 12.40 Knight Commander 1.10 Ishyaboi 1.40 Shantou Express 2.15 Oscars Moonshine 2.50 Sizing At Midnight 3.25 Zoffee 4.00 Twasn’t The Plan 4.30 Silent Partner 

Newcastle 1.50 Calvinist 2.25 Cordouan 3.00 Illusionist 3.35 Yazaman 4.10 Top Attraction 4.40 Kilconquhar 5.10 Burrows Seeside 5.40 Arcavallo 

Kempton 4.35 Bezzas Lad 5.05 Night Narcissus 5.35 Star Of Epsom 6.10 Takeonefortheteam 6.40 Strong Power (nap) 7.10 Culture 7.40 Durrell 8.10 Treaty Of Dingle 

True Belief (4.20) and Fox Shinji (3.10) should also go well on the same card, while at Kempton, Strong Power (6.40) is a decent bet at around 7-1 to follow up his win over course-and-distance 11 days ago.