Nicholls enters unknown territory at Cheltenham with new boys

Cheltenham’s November meeting this weekend will be a major learning curve for champion trainer Paul Nicholls as he starts three of the newcomers to his yard.

Lalor, previously trained by Kayley Woollacott, heads for the feature Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday, joined in the race by Simply The Betts – who was moved to Nicholls’ Ditcheat home by owners Kate and Andrew Brooks from Harry Whittington.

Another former Whittington stable star, Rouge Vif, is set to make his debut for Nicholls in Sunday’s Shloer Chase.

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On Lalor, who is without a win since this meeting three years ago, Nicholls told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s run well over the trip and at the track before but it’s a long time since he’s had any decent form so we’ve got to hope that we’ve got him back to his best.

“We’ve given him a breathing operation and hopefully that might be the key to it all because his two runs in the last 18 months have been disappointing.

“We haven’t run him before so we’re not working on anything we’ve learned from the past but he’s working well.”

Lalor failed to finish in his last two starts for former trainer Kayley Woollacott

Simply The Betts, winner of the Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020, has been off the track for a year after finishing sixth in the previous edition of the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

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“Simply The Betts is a lovely horse. He won at the Festival for Harry [Whittington] and has been off for some time but he’s very fit and well,” Nicholls said.

“His mark is now 154 and he’s at the top of the weights so it’s a huge ask to expect him to go and run close to winning.

“Whatever he does on Saturday he will then improve on.”

Gavin Sheehan gives Simply The Betts a well deserved pat after victory at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival

Rouge Vif is joined in Sunday’s Grade Two by new stablemate Politologue, who returns to the track for the first time since winning the 2020 Champion Chase.

“I was quite surprised to see Politologue was 6/1 this morning because if you take a line through some of those in the Champion Chase – with Greaneteen and Nube Negra – it gives him a big chance at the weekend,” Nicholls said.

“He is brilliant first time out so we’re very happy with him and he had a lovely away day with Lalor at Wincanton and did a lovely piece of work.

Harry Skelton celebrates victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Politologue

“We’d like to see the ground a little bit slower than it probably is. Both horses, him and Rouge Vif, are in good form and we’re looking forward to running them.

“Rouge Vif has worked nicely at home, but as with all new horses they often take a little while to settle in to our routine.”

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Fergal O’Brien is enjoying leading the jump trainers championship while it lasts with Dan Skelton and Paul Nicholls closing the gap fast ahead of Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Perhaps Nicholls’ best chance of the meeting comes on Friday in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Gelino Bello was an impressive winner at Aintree last month and is turned out quickly for his second outing over hurdles.

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“He won an ordinary maiden hurdle at Aintree so it’s a big step up in class,” Nicholls said.

“He schooled this morning and is very well. In a perfect world I wouldn’t mind a couple more weeks as there’s only been three weeks since he made his debut but he seems perfect so we’ll let him run and see how we get on.”

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