Trainer Paul Nicholls opened the doors to his Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset, today and believes that his best chance of the week is Clan des Obeaux in the feature G1 £625,000 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Nicholls has trained 45 at winners The Festival, the third highest ever, while his haul of four Cheltenham Gold Cups is the highest of any current trainer and second only to Tom Dreaper, who won the Blue Riband of chasing five times.
Nicholls, who has been crowned champion Jump trainer 11 times, said today: "Clan des Obeaux is obviously a dual King George winner and looks absolutely fantastic in his coat.
"He was one of eight horses we took to Wincanton this morning, and he did a proper workout with Frodon over two miles. It was always the plan to go somewhere with them this week as part of their preparation. Him and Frodon worked particularly well, and I was thrilled with this lad. He has had a great preparation.
"Last year, we went from Kempton to the Denman Chase, which was put back a week, and then to Cheltenham. We are coming in with a different preparation this year because we have worked out that he is best when fresh. His best runs have been from Haydock to Kempton last season and then this season from Down Royal to Kempton. He is only eight and is bound to have improved. I think he is in as good a shape as he has ever been. He has not won at Cheltenham, but perhaps he will do that in two weeks' time. People say he does not act around there, yet he was just beaten by Whisper in a novices' chase and finished second in a Caspian Caviar Gold Cup under top weight, when he was half the horse he is now. He ran well in last year's Gold Cup and was bang there jumping the last. He did not quite finish off his race and I think that was down to a few things, the preparation being one of them. We rode him to the fore last year whereas this year I think we will ride him with more restraint. I think the key is that he is a year older and comes in off a different preparation.
"He is very effective when he is very fit and very fresh - I think he is lethal on those terms. I think he is my best chance of the week."
Clan des Obeaux today
Frodon provided one of the highlights of The Festival when taking the G1 Ryanair Chase under Bryony Frost and the eight-year-old is set to take his chance again in the £350,000 contest over an extended two and a half miles on Thursday, 12 March.
Nicholls continued: "Frodon did not have an ideal preparation before Christmas.
"He ran in the Old Roan under top weight in preparation for the Betfair Chase and they took all the fences out. He then completely under performed in the Betfair, about the only time he has run disappointingly for us, so Clifford [Baker] scoped him and found out he had grade four ulcers.
"It is odd because all the seasons he has been in training with us, he has never had an ulcer. But for whatever reason he had them, and grade four is as bad as it gets really. We got them cleared up and then tuned him up for Kempton. I thought he'd win and he did quite nicely. He has improved a lot since and worked very well with Clan des Obeaux this morning. He was his usual, free, enthusiastic self and gave Clan a good tow and kept on galloping.
"He loves this time of the year and is back where he wants to be. He is in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup but is almost certain to run in the Ryanair Chase again. He loves the New Course at Cheltenham and is ready to defend his crown. I think he will run very well again."
Paul Nicholls & Frodon today
Other contenders for The Festival
Dynamite Dollars & Politologue
"I think Dynamite Dollars and Politologue are dark horses in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
"Politologue was just beaten by Defi du Seuil at Cheltenham in November giving him weight. He then ran ordinarily in the Tingle Creek and we found out he bled. We have purposely not run him since then, with the idea of going to Cheltenham, as he is very effective when fresh. He was one of the horses we took to Wincanton this morning. He has had a great preparation and it does not matter how much it keeps raining because that will suit him. I think at 33/1 he is a lively outsider in the Champion Chase. He was not beaten far last year and basically jumped the last upsides Altior. He comes right at this time of the year and I was very happy with him this morning.
"Dynamite Dollars had a great season last year as a novice chaser, winning four including the G1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown. He was doing really well but unfortunately got hurt when he won at Doncaster, which meant he missed the rest of the season. We got him back in October and the plan was to always run him in the Game Spirit on route to the Champion Chase. For a horse who was having his first run outside of novice company, having not run for a year, I thought it was a blinding run at Newbury to be beaten three and a half lengths. He has improved enormously since that run and worked very nicely at Wincanton this morning. He won't mind if it keeps raining and is a real lively outsider in my book. He does not need to improve too much on his Newbury run to be in the right mix, and he is bound to improve on that run."
"Solo is the highest-rated novice hurdler in Britain after his win at Kempton on the weekend. He is a beautiful horse and is probably the only colt still running over hurdles at the moment.
He is by Kapgarde, who is the sire of Clan des Obeaux, and we bought him as a future chaser. He is a great model from a great family. On his debut at Auteuil, he finished second to a horse called Stratagem that we have and then improved enormously on his next run, winning by 15 lengths.
"After that, we bought him and have been delighted with him from day one. He is a big tank of thing who takes loads of work. We love what we saw from him heading to Kempton. He was actually meant to run at Wincanton a few weeks ago but that meeting was off. I am glad we went to Kempton because he gave us that wow factor and we realised just what we have on our hands.
"I was worried that, having been around a big galloping track at Auteuil, that Kempton may catch him out a bit not being a Flat horse, but he coped with it well. Harry was very impressed. He has a mark of 157, which is not far off some of the horses in the Champion Hurdle. It would be interesting in that with an 8lb four-year-old allowance, but he will run in the Triumph Hurdle. That's his job and he should go very, very well."
"Sir Psycho will definitely run in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. We thought he was our main contender until Solo came out last week. He has progressed really well from a slow start. He was a bit of a jack the lad to start with at home, but he is doing everything right now.
"At Exeter on New Year's Day, he won an all-aged novices' hurdle by 36 lengths and to make sure that was not a fluke we went off to Haydock for the Victor Ludorum, and he absolutely hosed in again. He has a mark of 146, which puts him right up there with the top juveniles. A fast-run race will suit, and he will gallop up the hill. Whether he is in the mould of Solo, I would say probably not on what I have seen, but he will give a great account of himself at Cheltenham and will win lots of races."
"Greaneteen has won all three of his starts over fences, having won two over hurdles last year. He won at Ascot first time out, then went on to Musselburgh and Fakenham last week. That was his third run which enabled me to qualify him to run in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase.
"He is now rated 150 and, although he is in the Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase as well, I think that is a tough race. If we thought he could win an Arkle, he should go very well in a Grand Annual off of 150. He is one of the favourites and a fast-run race will suit.
"The idea would be Cheltenham and then onto Aintree for the G1 novices' chase.
"Capeland has had a good season, winning a valuable handicap chase at Ascot. We have kept him fresh and I suspect he will run here as well."
"Thyme White will run in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. He has had three runs. He was second to Goshen on his debut at Sandown, second at Kempton over Christmas and then won the Musselburgh Triumph Hurdle Trial a fortnight ago.
"He has a rating of 133 and I think he can do something off that mark. He is progressing and the Boodles is a race we have done well in. I would think this lad will have a leading chance. He is a proper horse who will make a lovely chaser one day.
"Mick Pastor is another nice four-year-old. He joined us in the summer after winning his only start in the spring at Auteuil.
"We went to Cheltenham with him in November and he pulled very, very hard. He did not really go in the ground either and it was a bit of a disaster. We found out he had ulcers and treated him for that. He was much more amenable at Ludlow and absolutely bolted in. We have kept him back since.
"He has a mark of 140, which puts him in between the horses at the top of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and those in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. I have not spoken to JP McManus' team, but I suspect he will run in the Boodles. He worked at Wincanton this morning and went nicely. He is a smart young horse and there is quite a lot in front of him yet."
"Quel Destin ran second on Sunday in what was a bit of an odd running of the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell.
"I have often thought he was a horse who keeps a bit for himself and on a couple of occasions I have very nearly put cheekpieces on him. I wish I did on Sunday because he went to the front, hung a bit and pulled himself up, and sort of threw the race away.
"He is in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle off top weight and if it came up testing, with the weights being so condensed and Bryan Carver claiming 5lb, it may be worth looking at. The race would suit him and he likes Cheltenham. If not, he will go to Sandown on the last day of the season and then onto Auteuil for the Prix La Barka."
"Saint Sonnet won nicely at Catterick on Tuesday. The plan is for him to run in the Marsh Novices' Chase.
"If it dried up he could run in the RSA, but the Marsh is the main aim. He will improve tons from Catterick and there is more to come from him."
"David Maxwell is going to ride Shantou Flyer in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase, so we will only run Alcala in the race. Bob And Co will probably go to Aintree.
"Alcala didn't have a great prep as he had to go to Fontwell on Sunday, so he needs to get over that race. I think if we can get him back to his best, he is not without a chance in a race where five or six could conceivably win."