Nicholls gears up for Kempton
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.
Triumphant: Trainer Paul Nicholls with Silviniaco Conti
after last year’s King George at Kempton Park.