Paul Nicholls hopes Clan Des Obeaux can end his 10-year drought in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by giving him a record-equalling fifth victory in the race.
Nicholls is keeping his fingers crossed that this season’s King George VI Chase hero will provide him with his first victory in the coveted Grade 1 since Kauto Star claimed the second of his two triumphs in 2009.
Although Clan Des Obeaux – no bigger than 9/2 for the Gold Cup – is yet to win in four previous starts at Cheltenham, the 10-time champion trainer believes there are valid excuses for each of those defeats.
The trainer said: “Everyone keeps saying he hasn’t won at Cheltenham in four starts. The first time he ran there as a juvenile, he was only just beaten in a listed race.
“He should have never run in the Triumph Hurdle – at the time he was part-owned by Jared Sullivan, and he wanted to run him. If Mr Barber had owned him outright, he wouldn’t have run him in the Triumph Hurdle – because he wasn’t that type of horse.
“He was then second as a just-turned five-year-old to Whisper in the Dipper (Novice Chase) – which was good form – and he then carried 11st 12lb and finished second to a horse carrying 10st 2lb (Guitar Pete). Harry (Cobden) got off that day and said he is still learning about the job. Now we are where we want to be.”
After Clan Des Obeaux followed up his King George success with victory in the rearranged Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot earlier this month, Nicholls feels his new stable star is primed for another big performance.
He added: “He is an experienced horse that has matured, and he has done the talking himself in the last few runs. We are really excited about running him in the Gold Cup. We don’t know what he will be end up being rated, or where he will end up.
“Kauto won his first Gold Cup at seven, so he is the right age. Fingers crossed, with a bit of luck in running, he will run a big race.”
A late decision will be made whether Frodon will run in the Gold Cup or Ryanair Chase as he bids to back up his success in a Grade 2 contest at the track.
Nicholls added: “I’m not worried about the trip in the Gold Cup, because he will gallop and stay all day – but that will be a tougher race than the Ryanair over that trip, and the Ryanair may cut up.
“We don’t want to run him in the Gold Cup for the sake of it, if we could win the Ryanair. He is rated 169 now – which is right up with the best. He will give a good account of himself, whatever he runs in.”
The imposing Topofthegame is viewed as a long-term Gold Cup prospect, but at this year's meeting, the seven-year-old son of Flemensfirth takes the next step on the path to stardom in the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase over three miles.
Topofthegame was beaten a length and a half by the tenacious La Bague Au Roi in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park at Christmas, but Nicholls is adamant that a stiff, galloping test at Cheltenham will see the gelding in a much better light.
"Topofthegame has entries in both the RSA Chase and the JLT Novices' Chase, but he is almost certain to run in the RSA", reported Nicholls. "This is probably one of the tallest horses you'll see in training.
"He has lots of ability and was a good hurdler. He got beat a head in the Coral Cup last year. He has gone chasing this year and on his first run forfeited 20 lengths when he panicked at the start, but he jumped brilliantly that day and finished second to Defi Du Seuil there at Exeter.
"He finished second at Kempton over Christmas in the Kauto Star to La Bague Au Roi and that is good form. Turning for home, he looked like the winner there, but the minute he hit the front, he was a little bit green. We purposely haven't run him since, he goes well fresh and we're looking forward to running him. Hopefully, we can go on to Aintree with him, he is a high-class chaser in the making, jumps nicely, has lots of class and is one of our big chances at Cheltenham. He looks good in his skin and has just come right. One thing he does do is jump very well."
Quel Destin has emerged as the leading British-trained hope for the two-mile JCB Triumph Hurdle. The four-year-old son of Muhtathir is unbeaten in his last five runs and ran out a convincing winner of the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock Park on February 16th.
Nicholls commented: "I was surprised how well he won at Haydock because he looked quite big as if he would need the run which he did, but he still managed to win. He is a proper tough four-year-old which you need in a Triumph.
"He can either make the running or jump off and sit handy. Quel Destin jumps well and keeps galloping so he is one of our leading chances at Cheltenham. This lad has it all and is a proper jumping horse. He keeps winning and is getting better with every run."
Pic D'Orhy is yet to run in Britain having joined the stable from France, but could join Quel Destin in the Triumph Hurdle. The four-year-old son of Turgeon won on three of his seven starts in France and finished second on his final run for Francois Nicolle at Auteuil in November.
Nicholls commented: "Pic D'Orhy is a very interesting juvenile from France. His mark in this country based on his French form is 149 and he is a possible for the Triumph Hurdle.
"That rating is up there with the best juveniles in Britain and Ireland. He is a proper, big chasing type of horse who we bought with the future in mind. His form is excellent and we took him to Wincanton last week for a racecourse gallop and we were thrilled with what we saw.
"I was going to run him at Kelso on Saturday, but he is not qualified for a novice hurdle there because he won a novice hurdle in France in March, therefore you are eligible to run in juvenile hurdles in this country, but not against older horses.
"I wanted to run him with a view to see where we were, so I will either go straight for the Triumph with him or go to Aintree. He has a lot of ability and we would probably run in the Triumph if the ground was on the soft side, but if not we will wait for Aintree. He is a horse we are all very excited about here."
Another exciting novice at Manor House Stables is Grand Sancy, who is set to tackle the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The five-year-old son of Diamond Boy finished a fine second to Elixir De Nutz in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, before producing a game front-running performance to plunder the Kingwell Hurdle from more experienced hurdlers at Wincanton last time out.
"Grand Sancy will run in the Supreme Novices' and is rated 152 which is high for a novice", commented Nicholls. "He's had a great season and after being narrowly beaten in the Tolworth, he won well in the Kingwell Hurdle, beating Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos. He gave them weight at Wincanton and really toughed it out with a good performance for a novice.
"He looks fantastic and has come out of the race well. Grand Sancy is every bit as good as Noland  and Al Ferof  who are our other past winners of the Supreme. He is probably quite a big price for the Supreme. Al Dancer is favourite and he is rated the same as Grand Sancy - I don't think there is much between those two.
"Our lad jumps well, is tough and is an end-to-end galloper. He has done nothing but improve and this is an open race. The last novice we had to win a Kingwell was Azertyuiop who went on to win an Arkle  and Champion Chase , so it would be nice to think this lad could go on too and he'll go novice chasing next season. Grand Sancy is in the form of his life and we're looking forward to running him in the Supreme."
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