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19 Oct 2015

Champion trainer's honesty and forthcoming attitude a treat

As punters and horse racing fans, the onus is really on all of us as individuals to form our opinions on races before deciding whether or not to have a bet.
In this digital age we are blessed with a plethora of information and tools with which to aid our judgement and solve the often difficult puzzles in the pursuit of winners.
Whether for a casual punter, professional gambler or leading trainer – identifying winners is not a perfect science and often race results will leave us more confused than we started out.
As punters, we like nothing more than to think we have identified something in the formbook to put us a step ahead of the posse.
However, nothing fills us with more excitement than really strong confidence from a yard that their horse is going to do the business.
Reading through Paul Nicholls' recent Q&A session with Betfair Racing on Twitter it struck readers how the champion trainer is refreshingly honest and forthright in his opinions when dealing with both the public and the press.
So much of what we hear from trainers falls into a grey area, doing very little to help us form an opinion.
Clearly, nobody expects a trainer to be able to call every race their horses run in but often their comments give little in the way of an indication of what they truly expect.
At this time of year, Nicholls' always makes for an interesting read. At his Ditcheat Open Day and on occasions like this Q&A, he will reveal his hopes and dreams for both his established stars and the new horses in his string that we have yet to see on the racecourse.
We are not stuck for a prime example of Nicholls expressing a really strong opinion on one his horses and ultimately being proved correct.
In the run up to the Queen Mother Champion Chase at this year's Cheltenham Festival, Nicholls happily told anyone willing to listen that Dodging Bullets had proved himself to be the leading two-mile chaser in the business.
He was, his trainer said, a much improved performer at home and his wins in the Tingle Creek and Clarence House had proved it on the track for good measure.
In particular the second of those wins at Ascot appeared to be overlooked owing to the long-awaited return of Sprinter Sacre, who filled the runner-up spot.
Come Cheltenham, Dodging Bullets was sent off third favourite behind Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in a field of nine runners for the Queen Mother.
Nicholls contended his charge merited a position at the head of the betting and anyone listening would have been rewarded with a 9/2 Cheltenham Festival winner.
The same conundrum was presented to Nicholls this week regarding Dodging Bullets' current price for 2016 Champion Chase and his response was to confirm that the horse doesn't know what price he is but he is very well in himself as the new season approaches.

What else can we hope to learn from Nicholls' exchange with the racing public?
Zarkandar may not race this season but if he does then he is most likely to appear for the first time in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Questioned on an ante-post bet for the season, Nicholls very interestingly suggested last year's impressive Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins for the same stayers contest at Cheltenham.
Armed with the knowledge that the French import was allowed make his British racecourse debut in the ultra-competitive festival handicap last time out, which really could be a nugget of information worth paying heed to.
Aux Ptits Soins can be backed on Betfair at 11.00 for the World Hurdle currently.
Nicholls expects both Irving and Ptit Zig to bounce back from disappointing ends to their respective campaigns last time out – the latter was flagged as a potential dark horse for Kempton's King George on Boxing Day.
Simon Squirrel, winner of a Newton Abbot Novices' Hurdle in September, was given the nod as one that might cause a few surprises this season while Nicholls pinpointed Sirabad as 'one to follow' in the months ahead.
Getting up close and personal with such a forthcoming figure in racing is a rare treat.
Of course, the majority of questions answered by Nicholls were on his own Ditcheat team but he also gave his thoughts on some promising horses not in his care.
If there was a transfer market in horse racing, which of the novice hurdling rank does the champion trainer look at longingly, wishing he had him under his own watch?
That honour went, perhaps unsurprisingly, to last season's Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer from the Pond House team of David Pipe.
Dodging Bullets showed last season that when Paul Nicholls really starts to beat a drum, it can pay to sit up and take notice.

He has now fired some informational 'bullets' for the season ahead and, as always, there was a refreshing willingness to share his thoughts on what is going at Team Ditcheat and beyond.