PAUL Nicholls is out to continue his domination of tomorrow’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.55pm).
The champion trainer has won tomorrow’s Cheltenham contest five times in the last 10 years and he has a couple of leading fancies lining up this time.
SECRET INVESTOR is the shortest one of the pair in the betting.
He’s only been out of the first two twice in 14 races and made a pleasing return to action when runner-up behind Real Steel in a Grade Two contest at Down Royal last month.
That came at a time when Nicholls’ horses looked in need of their first run of the season, so it’s fair to expect plenty of improvement from Harry Cobden’s mount.
Last term he took a while to find his feet over fences.
After defeats in each of his first three chases, he came good in great style in the spring when scoring at Wincanton before following up in the Grade Two Future Champion Novices’ Chase at Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting.
The distance of a little more than 2m4f is ideal for Secret Investor so he should reward his backers with a tasty dividend.
BRELAN D’AS could easily give Nicholls a one-two in the £130,000 contest.
He came within a neck of landing last month’s BetVictor Gold Cup when just run out of it close home by Happy Diva.
His novice wins at Haydock and Fakenham last season came in small fields but he’s clearly got no problem with today’s conditions.
As well as his narrow defeat last time, he was also third in the Grand Annual at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
CEPAGE is another with plenty of course form.
He chased home subsequent Ryanair Chase hero Frodon in this race 12 months ago and last month’s second behind Riders Onthe Storm at Aintree was his first run since.
The handicapper shoved Cepage up eight pounds for that run so he has to carry top weight but that didn’t stop Frodon last year.
His trainer Venetia Williams has her team in good form, so Cepage should be involved in the finish.
Riders Onthe Storm was hit even harder for that Aintree win.
He was super impressive on his first run for Nigel Twiston-Davies after arriving from Ireland but a 15lbs rise does not make life easy.
CLONDAW CASTLE is more interesting.
He was brought along steadily last season with wins at Leicester and Huntingdon before trainer Tom George dropped him into the deep end in the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.
He eventually finished fourth but he was the only one to put it up to the winner, Duc Des Genievres, when the race got serious and the ground would have been softer than ideal.
Fortune was so nearly smiling on him when he made his return from a summer break at Ascot.
He looked booked for third going to the last fence until Nicholls’ Diego Du Charmil veered across the track forcing stablemate Capeland into the wings.
The stewards allowed the result to stand but it was still a nice comeback from Clondaw Castle and the step up in distance is expected to suit Johnny Burke’s mount.
Lalor is also tackling a longer trip.
He looked potentially top class when thrashing Dynamite Dollars at Cheltenham last year but he has been terribly disappointing since.
Kayley Woollacott’s Grade One hurdles winner shaped as though the 2m4f distance would help when well held in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last month, but he is going to have to show more spark than he has for a long time.
Keeper Hill lost his way over fences a couple of seasons ago but he looked to be over his troubles when causing a bit of a surprise at Haydock three weeks ago.
He was giving weight to smart Midnight Shadow when he outbattled him in the closing stages and he’s always had the potential to be decent over fences.
Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins brings over Robin Des Foret but he will do well to stop British counterpart and great rival, Nicholls, from stealing the Caspian Caviar show again.
Bill Esdaile’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup 1-2-3-4
1 Secret Investor, 2 Brelan D’As, 3 Cepage, 4 Clondaw Castle