Paul Nicholls started training in 1991 after injury brought to an end a career in the saddle that saw him ride back-to-back Hennessy Gold Cups on Playschool in 1986 and Broadheath in 1987.
He only managed to fill eight of the 28 boxes in his first season at Manor Farm Stables in Somerset, but it’s been all change since then. Nicholls has now trained over 1,700 winners including four Cheltenham Gold Cups winners.
The four-time Champion Trainer added another five winners to his Cheltenham Festival winners’ tally last year and will be looking to build on a total that stands at 25 when the best four days racing of the year gets underway tomorrow.
Bill Esdaile caught up with the Champion Trainer on the eve of this year’s Festival to find out how Kauto Star and Denman are coping with the build-up to Friday’s showdown…
HOW IS DENMAN AFTER HIS FALL AT NEWBURY AND HOW DISAPPOINTED WERE YOU?
I have no doubt in my mind that if he hadn’t made that mistake he’d have won. In fact, bar a win at Newbury, he is exactly where I want him to be.
He has schooled really well since and he has improved enormously for that run. He certainly wasn’t fully wound up that day and he has bloomed since.
His jumping is normally bombproof and you write him off at your peril.
CAN HE REALLY BEAT KAUTO STAR?
Denman will have to produce a career best – there’s no doubt about that. Kauto at the top of his game will be really hard to beat. He is as good as he has ever been… both in looks and the way he is working. But you just cannot rule Denman out, he has done it before.
HOW MANY HORSES WILL YOU BE RUNNING AT CHELTENHAM THIS WEEK?
Plans are always up in the air, but at the moment we plan to run about 30.
HOW MANY OF THOSE HAVE OWNERS WHO WORK IN THE CITY?
Funnily enough about a quarter of them with Andy Stewart and Chris Giles probably being the most high-profile. We run the likes of Poquelin and Big Buck’s for Andy, while Chris owns Tricky Trickster who runs in the Gold Cup on Friday (and is currently favourite for the Grand National).
IF YOU WERE A BETTING MAN, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR BEST BET OF THE WEEK?
Poquelin in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. He’ll love the ground and he is in real good order.
IS THERE ANYTHING AT A BIGGER PRICE THAT COULD CAUSE A SURPRISE?
I think Tricky Trickster at 7/1 without Kauto and Denman in the Gold Cup is a cracking bet. He just keeps on improving and will surprise a few on Friday.
POPULARITY STAKES | WHO THE STARS ARE BACKING....
”I think Kauto Star will win because he has a good cruising speed and a very good turn of foot. I really like the horse as he is such a flashy looker.”
“I think that Kauto Star will win very easily. On Boxing Day he was sheer brilliance in four legged motion and I think Denman, even with the mighty AP on board, will struggle to keep him at bay.”
“Tony McCoy riding Denman adds yet more spice to the dual; the Gold Cup now has the two best horses and jockeys. Denman is a very good horse, but to me Kauto Star is one of the best ever. I was lucky enough to be at Kempton on Boxing Day and he was awesome. I think Kauto Star will win the Gold Cup.”
“I think Kauto Star will win as I have always thought Denman is more of a Grand National horse.”
“It is Denman for me. Big, strong, relentless and brave, I think he can grind the pace up from the front and take the sting out of Kauto Star.”
“I think Denman this year as AP McCoy loves a challenge and he is a born winner.”
"I can't wait for this race - Kauto Star is a tremendous horse, but Denman has Tony McCoy on board now and I think that will prove the difference on the day."
Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor
“It’s the ultimate match: the tough gritty AP and Denman versus the skill & flair of Ruby and Kauto Star. My head says Kauto Star but at these prices my wallet says Denman.” Michael Owen