Paul Nicholls believes Frodon faces a tall order in his bid to become the third dual winner of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase, however he reports his popular stable stalwart to be ‘fresh and well’ ahead of his return to Cheltenham on Saturday (28th January), which is Festival Trials Day.
Although rating the 11 year old as having only an ‘outside chance’ in joining Many Clouds (2015 and 2017) and See More Business (1998 and 2001) in becoming a two time winner of the Grade Two contest he remains optimistic he is no forlorn hope.
Having landed the 61st Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton on his comeback the Paul Vogt-owned gelding has since finished third back at Grade One level in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park and the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
Despite having work to turn the tables on his Betfair Chase conqueror Protektorat the Ditcheat handler feels Frodon’s affinity with Cheltenham, where he will be seeking a seventh success, offers him a glimmer of hope of adding to his 2019 win in the race.
Nicholls, who is a Betfair ambassador, said of the 2019 Ryanair Chase winner: “Frodon ran well in the King George where he finished third and Ahoy Senor, who looks likely to take him on here, was well behind him.
“He ran very well at Wincanton first time and you can almost put a line through his second run when he was third behind Protektorat because I ran him too soon as it was only two weeks after the Badger Beer.
“He is fresh and well and he will run a good race but he might be vulnerable to some of those younger legs again and you would have to say Protektorat should beat him again on form.
“It was a shame the Portman Cup at Taunton was called off last week, but he likes Cheltenham and especially the New Course so you just never know.
“He looks as well as I’ve seen him look. He schooled on Monday and he worked great and he has had a nice bit of time since Kempton. He has an outside chance of winning but he could run well and get placed.”
The 13-times champion Jump trainer admits he is on a fact finding mission with Gelino Bello, who will have his chasing career put on hold for a tilt at the Grade Two Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle.
He said: “He just didn’t jump as well as he could have done at Kempton the other day (in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase), much like Dan Skelton’s mare (Galia Des Liteaux).
“I think there were some shadows down the back straight and he lost confidence the first circuit. He was still going well when he fell at the last down the back.
“I think a run over hurdles won’t do him any harm and it might just sharpen him up a bit.
“If he went and won or ran very well I’ve got the option of going for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with him. It is a bit of a fact finding mission with him.
“This weekend will tell us a lot, however he is not going there for a day out, he is going there and he will be doing his damndest to win.
“If we are going to go for a Stayers’ Hurdle we need to beat Paisley Park or run him very close.”
Nicholls feels the application of cheekpieces will benefitIl Ridito, who will attempt to open his account for the campaign in the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase.
He said: “I think the last day if he had jumped the final fence quick he would have been very close. I think putting the cheekpieces on will sharpen his jumping up.
“He had just come to go with Midnight River (winner) and he has half missed it and jumped left and made a mistake which cost him.
“I think the New Course does suit him better and if you watch the race back he looked the winner going to the last.
“He has been dropped another pound which helps and he is on a mark good enough to go well in this.”
Henri The Second already has one Grade Two to his name this season after landing the Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park, however Nicholls insists he faces a ‘big ask’ in doubling his tally at the same level in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
He said: “He has got a five pound penalty for winning the Grade Two at Sandown Park before Christmas and that won’t make life easy against good horses.
“He is obviously a nice horse and he has already won a good race this season. He is in good shape and he will stay up that Cheltenham hill but he has got a big task with the penalty.
“He ran very well last time, however we thought would go well on his first run but he was a bit green. He is still learning and there is plenty of improvement to come from him yet.
“He wasn’t quite ready for the Leamington at Warwick as he had a hard race at Sandown so he needed that little bit of extra time but we have got him back where we want him now.”
Nicholls expects the nature of the track to suit mareDixon Cove who will represent him opposed to Afadil in the opening Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.
He said: “I’m probably going to run Dixon’s Cove as I think the ground will probably be too fast for her up at Doncaster.
“She ran very well the last day at Chepstow and got beaten half a length staying on really strongly to Joseph O’Brien’s horse (Comfort Zone) and she is five pounds better off with him on Saturday, if he runs.
“The stiff track and soft ground will suit her. We just think Afadil is not quite ready to go yet. He wants another smaller race.
“She has improving form and will see out the trip and she will stay up the hill so she has got a chance.”
A late decision will be made as to the participation ofStage Star in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, however Hacker Des Places, who also runs in the Owners Group syndicate silks will contest the SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle.
He added: “Stage Star needs to go left-handed so it leaves us with not many options. There is the race Bravemansgame won last year at Newbury, which is a novices’ handicap or there is this.
“He hosed up the last day in a match race and he won very well first time out at Warwick. I think the ground was too fast for him at Newbury and he wasn’t right that day for whatever reason
“I’ve not fully decided that I will commit to running him I will make my mind up tomorrow morning.
“As for Hacker Des Places, he has been ready to run for the last six weeks but every time I’ve entered him the meeting has been called off. He needs a run before going for the Betfair Hurdle. If he didn’t go for that he could go to Kelso for the Morebattle Hurdle.
“A lot of his form has been on flat tracks so I’m quite keen to give him a run at Cheltenham.”