Nicholls embracing new reality ahead of Cheltenham

Updated: Wednesday, 20 Feb 2013 16:04

Paul Nicholls admits the change in his yard has been noticeable since the loss of his established names.

Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti are the champion trainer's best hopes of Cheltenham Festival success this season and new blood has needed to be injected into the operation.

As if to emphasise his point, Kauto Star's old box is now inhabited by the little-known Buck's Bond and his fellow retiree Denman has made way for Pacha Du Polder.

Even staying hurdling legend Big Buck's, who is recovering from injury, has a new tenant in his stable called Sire Collonges.

"The whole yard is totally different to how it used to be," said Nicholls at his Cheltenham press morning on Wednesday.

"You've got to keep moving forward and we've got a nice team.

"I've had Kauto, Denman and Big Buck's, who'd be your nap hand for Cheltenham.

"It's different now, but we're looking forward to it.

"No-one's got a squad like Nicky Henderson or Willie Mullins, they've got an awesome team.

"In the betting, I'm 10-1 to be top trainer at Cheltenham and it's so competitive, so hard, as they all take a lot of winning.

"I would think I'll have 25 or 26 runners, and you've got to make them all count."

"I'd compare him favourably with Zarkandar, and he's top of the pile of our juveniles" - Trainer Paul Nicholls on Triumph Hurdle contender Far West  

Aside from Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti, leading contenders for the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup respectively, Nicholls outlined many of his other likely starters.

Leading the field is Far West, who is at the top of the betting for the JCB Triumph Hurdle after four consecutive victories.

"I was very impressed with how he won at Ascot last Saturday," said Nicholls.

"He's got speed, he's got everything.

"He jumps great and has worked with Zarkandar.

"I'd compare him favourably with Zarkandar, and he's top of the pile of our juveniles."

Fago, who made an impressive British debut at Newbury but subsequently fell at Warwick, will run at Sandown on Friday ahead of engagements in the Arkle and Jewson.

Nicholls says he is "leaning towards the two-mile route".

He compared Dodging Bullets favourably with his previous Supreme winners Al Ferof and Noland, while Ptit Zig is one of a few in the running for the Fred Winter.

Celestial Halo will represent Big Buck's owner Andy Stewart in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Ulck Du Lin has been saved for the Grand Annual.

Nicholls also gave a good word for Sam Winner in the Pertemps Final.

"I think the trip will bring out the best in him and I think he definitely has a chance," Nicholls said.

Wonderful Charm heads to Kempton on Saturday for a racecourse gallop ahead of the Coral Cup, but a decision has not been made on the Cheltenham participation of last week's Reynoldstown winner Rocky Creek.

Nicholls said: "If it's testing, Rocky Creek could go for the RSA Chase, but he's a horse I want to look after and I might ask Andy Stewart and David Johnson if I can just mind him."

Unioniste may take his place in the RSA, while Sanctuaire will have another attempt at conquering the apparently unbeatable Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.