Change of heart expected to reap reward for Nicholls and Wylie

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Paul Nicholls has hit the ground running with the team sent to him by Graham Wylie and the pair are set for another profitable afternoon at Sandown today.

Since the disqualification and subsequent retirement of Howard Johnson, the leading owner switched his remaining horses to Ireland’s champion trainer, Willie Mullins, and his British counterpart, Paul Nicholls, who struck with his first runner in the familiar Wylie colours when Prospect Wells won at Chepstow in October.

It has been a case of onwards and upwards since then for the partnership and the horse, who will be difficult to beat in the Hurdle.

A smart stayer on the level in his native France, that winning National Hunt debut in Wales was supplemented by a narrow loss at the hands of the ruling Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Steps To Freedom at Cheltenham’s Open meeting.

A subsequent defeat of fellow Festival aspirant All The Aces saw him head to The Ladbroke as a warm order, but taking on seasoned handicappers proved too much too soon at Ascot, although he lost none of his reputation when fourth, beaten only a length-and-a-half.

The plan then was to freshen him up for the Cheltenham curtain-raiser in March, but such is his well-bring, as well as perhaps a lack of genuine quality among the opposition, that Nicholls and Wylie had a rethink earlier in the week and the change of heart should reap reward.

The combination can follow up 35 minutes later when The Knoxs takes in the HBLB Handicap Chase.

With Ruby Walsh preferring to partner top-weight Neptune Collonges, 3lb claimer Ryan Mahon takes over the reins, but that should not detract from the chances of the nine-year-old, who earned a crack at Oscar Whisky when returning with a bloodless success over the smaller obstacles at Exeter.

He ultimately came up short in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle, but he is comparatively well treated in this sphere and, with just the four chase starts under his belt, is open to any amount of improvement.

Nicky Henderson takes a strong squad to the Esher venue and launches two arrows at the 32Red Handicap Chase.

Daves Dream has long threatened to collect a decent prize over fences and won the Imperial Cup at this venue a few years ago, but his stablemate Tanks For That could graduate to Graded company this term.

A three-length winner over Havingotascoobydo at Cheltenham on his reappearance, he was still travelling well within himself when capsizing at Prestbury Park but he is usually a solid jumper and is taken to defy the steadier of 11st 12lb.

Havingotascoobydo reverts to timber at the fixture for the 32Red Handicap Hurdle.

Martin Keighley’s progressive young chaser was unlucky to hit the deck at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Keighley has decided to try to take advantage of a lower hurdling figure in the lead-up to the Festival.