Ni­cholls holds the aces as train­ers head for fi­nal day of bat­tle

The Herald - Herald Sport - - RACING - WHITE AND GOLD

HON­OURS were just about even be­tween Wil­lie Mullins and Paul Ni­cholls on the penul­ti­mate day of the bat­tle for the Na­tional Hunt train­ers’ cham­pi­onship.

Mullins landed an early blow as Rolly Baby ran out a com­pre­hen­sive win­ner of the McCarthy & Stone Chase at Perth.

Hav­ing al­ready been among the win­ners at the Scot­tish track this week, Mullins started £53,556 be­hind reign­ing cham­pion Ni­cholls, who is seek­ing a 10th ti­tle.

Rolly Baby was a 2-1 shot for his as­sign­ment, af­ter open­ing his ac­count over fences at Na­van in Fe­bru­ary.

Paul Townend po­si­tioned the light­lyraced 11-year-old in be­hind Uh­lan Bute for much of the two-and-a-half-mile event be­fore tak­ing over in the home straight to score by eight lengths. The vic­tory earned Mullins £9,097, re­duc­ing the deficit to £44,459, and mean­ing the Clo­sut­ton mae­stro will kick off what prom­ises to be an en­thralling af­ter­noon at Sandown on Satur­day with prize­money of £2,275,660.

Ni­cholls had four run­ners at Chep­stow. His first run­ner, Rainy City was in­volved in a pul­sat­ing cli­max to divi­sion one of the Evan And Me­gan Brace Me­mo­rial Novices’ Hur­dle.

With Sam Twis­ton Davies on board, the six-year-old was one of three horses in line jump­ing the fi­nal flight but faded to fin­ish third as 11-10 favourite Big Chief Benny claimed vic­tory by a head from Beal­lan­den­dall.

Ni­cholls had strong claims of claim­ing top hon­ours in divi­sion two with Si­mon Squir­rel but drew a blank when the 5-6 odds-on favourite crashed out at the fi­nal flight, leav­ing 9-2 shot Cu­ri­ous Car­los to cruise clear.

The wait for a win­ner did not go on too long for Ni­cholls, how­ever, as 7-2 joint-favourite Ruben Cot­ter took the Dun­raven Win­dows Hand­i­cap Chase in de­ci­sive fash­ion, pick­ing up a valu­able £7,798 in the process. Given a con­fi­dent ride by Harry Cob­den, the 10-year-old held a firm ad­van­tage three out and never looked like re­lin­quish­ing it, com­ing home seven lengths clear of Pur­ple ‘N Gold. That took Ni­cholls to £2,328,489 – a lead of £52,829.

And with Whis­per­ing Storm (9-4 favourite) fin­ish­ing the night with a de­cent ef­fort to take sec­ond place in the Braceys ‘The Friendly Builders Mer­chant’ ‘Na­tional Hunt’ Maiden Hur­dle, pick­ing up £763, a fi­nal ad­van­tage of £53,592 means Team Ditcheat still hold the aces.

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