Sean’s Pre-Cheltenham Stable Tours 2024

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This is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Not the sunshine of Dubai, the excitement of Royal Ascot, or even the crowds at the Cheltenham Festival – but the chance to head off to a couple of yards pre-Cheltenham to have a look around, listen to the trainer’s views, assess a bit of body language – and draw my own conclusions.

On Monday morning after a very early start, I arrived in Somerset to see Paul Nicholls parade some of his Cheltenham string for a photo-call, but more importantly – talk to us all, answer the odd sensible question, and hopefully point us in the right direction. 

I won’t go on for hours, but I will list those I felt he seemed most interested in, with either his words or my reasoning – whether we find a winner or not may be largely down to where Irish mastermind Willie Mullins sends his rocket-propelled string – but we will have a better idea of what when and why – so good luck everyone, the Cheltenham Festival is sneaking up fast.

Bravemansgame.

The first horse out but whether that was down to his status or the fact that he runs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup is hard to second guess. He did look a picture, and Paul did hint that maybe he could have campaigned him better this season with three runs, each of them a second place, one each at Wetherby Haydock, and Kempton. Rested since, he will head to Cheltenham fresh as a daisy, and although Irish favourite Galopin Des Champs was mentioned as an obvious rival, Paul did feel the 16/1 currently available for each-way punters (do shop around) could well look good value by the time the Gold Cup is finished. 

Teeshan

An exciting youngster without a doubt and currently the shortest priced of the Brits in the bumper at 8/1 or thereabouts, and clearly a very decent sort. Described as similar to Captain Teague, who was third at a big price in the Champion Bumper past year, he has a very bright future and will be even better over hurdles, but do read on for further news! 

Captain Teague

Third in the bumper last year (see above), he looks all set to head off to the Albert Bartlett (current price 10/1), though that will depend on the weather between now and race day. Paul suggested that he will improve again for the step up in trip, but others appeared to excite the trainer more (in my opinion).  

Stage Star

The eight-year-old clearly goes well fresh, winning first time up in November after seven months off, he has only had one more run when pulled up at Cheltenham where the heavy ground and the 11 week turnaround were not in his favour. Deliberately rested since, Paul told us he was “very very happy” with him, and that if he gets decent ground at the Festival he has “a great chance” in the Ryanair Chase (current price 9/2). 

Ginny’s Destiny

Three wins in a row over fences for the Yeats gelding who is improving all the time, and Paul sees this one as perhaps his best chance of success at the meeting. He is currently entered in the Brown Advisory but is far more likely to head to the Turners Novices’ Chase instead, though at 11/4 I do feel there may be better value to be had if we are looking at the Nicholls horses in isolation.

Liari

Three wins out of three for the son of Cracksman, he jumps well and is a popular horse with his handler. On breeding there is every hope that better ground will see further improvement, and although he is currently engaged in the Triumph and the Boodles, he is far more likely to head for the latter (currently priced at 12/1) where he would probably sit at or very near to the top of the weights. He avoids Nicky Henderson’s Sir Gino that way which may be the sensible move even if he is as good as they think.

Last but by no means least I give you 

Quebecois

Of all the horses Paul could have wheeled out for us to see – or not – out came the lightly raced son of No Risk At All, bringing a smile to his trainer’s face. A half-brother to the ill-fated unbeaten hurdler Brindisi Breeze, Paul had double-checked the pedigree before the horse came out, suggesting more than a passing interest. He cost connections a whopping  £320,000 after coming home second to Queensbury Boy in his only-point-to-point and won his bumper at Exeter very easily in mid-December. Paul made the point that he was just as impressive as the more hyped Teeshan (see above), and although he does not have a Cheltenham entry this season, I urge you to add him to your trackers – this horse is very well regarded and barring mishap, will win some decent contests.

That was Monday out the way, and on Tuesday I set off almost as early (I stayed over) to the Fergal O’Brien yard for the first time, to see what I could learn. Despite more information about more runners from the Nicholls team, I loved every second with Fergal  as we watched the horses working on both the circular and the uphill gallops, reminding me why I love this game with any opportunity to get close to the horses well worth taking, however far the drive. 

After a tour of the yard and the chance to watch certain horses working (Fergal rattled the names off but I can’t write and take photos at the same time), we went back to the offices to talk though his Cheltenham Festival chances, which basically seems to revolve around Crambo and Dysart Enos (others are currently still entered, but seem more likely to head elsewhere.

Crambo

The seven-year-old remains on target for the Stayers Hurdle (current price 6/1) and looks to have a good chance of bringing home the spoils, and giving Fergus his first Cheltenham Festival winner. A winner last time out when seeing off the evergreen Paisley Park  by a short-head in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, he looked good after his piece of work this morning and regular work rider Eva was reportedly delighted with him. He jumped 12 hurdles at Lambourn under Johnny Burke recently who was reportedly very happy with him, and with Cheltenham expected to bring out further improvement he looks a solid each way play. 

Dysart Enos                  

The daughter of Malinas goes from strength to strength, winning three out of three bumpers, and three out of three over hurdles. She has all the attributes needed to go well in the Dawn Run Hurdle on the Thursday  (9/2) and has been deliberately kept away from winning a Class One or Two which means she gets in here without a 5lb penalty. This has always been the plan and as she has a will to win (she is a feisty mare that’s for sure), and “she ticks a lot of boxes” with her ability to quicken up the aspect that catches my eye the most.   

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