Ni­cholls gears up for Kemp­ton

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CHAM­PION trainer Paul Ni­cholls is pray­ing for rain ahead of Kemp­ton Park’s Wil­liam Hill Win­ter Fes­ti­val (De­cem­ber 26/27).

The Sun­bury race­course ex­trav­a­ganza is just two weeks away and Ni­cholls and prom­i­nent owner Rich Ricci were among those at the of­fi­cial launch event in Covent Gar­den, where con­nec­tions were quizzed on the con­tenders for Box­ing Day’s £200,000 jewel in the crown, the Wil­liam Hill King George VI Chase.

Ni­cholls spoke of cur­rent favourite and de­fend­ing cham­pion Sil­vini­aco Conti’s chances for the big race.

Ac­cord­ing to Ni­cholls, the 11/4 shot for the three­mile fea­ture has thrived since re­claim­ing the Bet­fair Chase last month and he is con­fi­dent he can de­fend his ti­tle after beat­ing Cue Card by three-and-a-half lengths in the same race last year, pro­vid­ing there are soft con­di­tions.

“He does ap­pear to be in the form of his life at the mo­ment,” de­clared Ni­cholls. “What he would want is plenty of rain.

“Kemp­ton on good ground wouldn’t be ideal.

“If you had a dry two weeks and the ground was good or even faster you’d be se­ri­ously con­cerned about it but if it keeps rain­ing, it’s soft, it’s ideal for him and last year’s race be­ing soft it was a test of stamina and it did suit him.”

Speak­ing about another of his hopes, Al Ferof, Ni­cholls added: “Ob­vi­ously I think Al Ferof ran a ca­reer best at As­cot and the form has worked out re­ally well.

“For what­ever rea­son he seems to be much bet­ter in him­self this year.

“The big­gest ques­tion is whether he’ll stay three miles on soft ground. But on his very best he might well do.”

Daryl Ja­cob is hop­ing for bet­ter ground at Kemp­ton for Cue Card after watch­ing the be­low-par run at Hay­dock: “We were ex­pect­ing to go there and run a big race and to be beaten com­fort­ably after three out I sup­pose you’d be a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed.

“But I think the horse has come on for the run and prob­a­bly the ground at Hay­dock was a bit too soft for him so we’re hop­ing for a lit­tle bit bet­ter ground at Kemp­ton and hope­fully we’ll see a few more lengths im­prove­ment.”

Wil­liam Hill have launched spe­cial mar­kets around the King George.

Odds are be­ing of­fered as to who will start as favourite, while it’s 5-2 for this year’s King George win­ner to land any race at the 2015 Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val.

Mean­while, Ni­cholls was cel­e­brat­ing at Sandown Park last week­end as Dodg­ing Bul­lets won the fea­ture race of the day, the 888sport Tin­gle Creek Chase, in front of a fes­tive crowd of more than 11,000 race­go­ers, with attendance up 10% com­pared to that in 2013 at the Esher course.

Ac­tion Images/ Ju­lian Her­bert

Tri­umphant: Trainer Paul Ni­cholls with Sil­vini­aco Conti

after last year’s King George at Kemp­ton Park.

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