The nine-year-old will start favourite for the showpiece Cheltenham Gold Cup after two wins from three starts this season, including a second victory at the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
But his two previous attempts at the race fill many with concerns and it is hard to find such a successful horse with so many detractors. He fell when travelling well two years ago and looked the likely winner in 2014, only to fade up Cheltenham’s fabled finishing hill.
However, Nicholls – who claimed the Champion Chase this week with Dodging Bullets, another horse who many thought would struggle to deliver when it mattered, remains upbeat – knowing a win would draw him level with the late Tom Dreaper as a record five-time race winner.
“Hopefully this year he is much better and on form he is the one they have to beat. He deserves to be favourite and I’ve got no doubts about him staying whatsoever,” said Nicholls, who also fields lively outsider Sam Winner.
Time and time again Cheltenham throws up a fairytale story and the emotional scenes of Tony McCoy’s Irish Hennessy win on Carlingford Lough at Leopardstown will pale in comparison should he strike again in the big race, in the famous green and gold hooped silks of owner JP McManus.
“I don’t know whether he is as good as the English horses, we’ll have to wait and see,” said trainer John Kiely.
“I’m happy with him, he came out of the race well and he has his work done.”
McCoy was desperate to have one winner at his farewell Festival and partnered 16/1 shot Uxizandre to victory in yesterday’s Ryanair Chase.
The 19-times Champion jockey has a book of five rides with Ned Buntline the short-priced favourite to deliver an emotional victory in the final race of the meeting – which has been named the AP McCoy Grand Annual in his honour.
“Cheltenham is about winning isn’t it?” said McCoy.
“It’s going to affect me more next year than this year, because I am still riding. This time next year I am going to miss it – I am missing it already and I haven’t stopped yet.
“Cheltenham is a very special place. It is where every jockey wants to win and I am no different. These are the days I am going to miss that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, defending Gold Cup champion Lord Windermere aims to win at his third consecutive Festival and provide his trainer, Jim Culloty, who won the race three times as the jockey of the legendary Best Mate, with a first win since the week after last year’s Gold Cup.
And former champion, Bob’s Worth, returns for a third crack at the race though aged ten he would be the oldest winner since 1998.
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