PAUL Nicholls is on course to run rising star Silviniaco Conti in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase – Wetherby’s £100,000 feature race of the year – as the champion trainer prepares for the post-Kauto Star hero.
With the twice Cheltenham Gold Cup winner set to be retired, and stablemate Denman already relishing his new career with the Beaufort Hunt, Nicholls is looking to a new generation of horses to become standard-bearers for his all-conquering Ditcheat yard.
His Charlie Hall contender is a horse of immense promise, chasing home Grands Crus in the Feltham Chase before winning one of the premier novice chases at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
Surprisingly, Nicholls is seeking his first victory in the race since See More Business completed back-to-back triumphs in 2000, though Neptune Collonges was second in 2006 before winning this year’s Grand National.
Weird Al and Time For Rupert, first and second 12 months ago, head the 14 entries for Saturday’s showpiece. They also include Grand National fourth Cappa Bleu as Welsh trainer Evan Williams attempts to win the race for a third time in five renewals.
As for Nicholls’s big rival Nicky Henderson, he has entered Master Of The Hall and Roberto Goldback the option, while other possible runners include Hennessy Gold Cup runner-up Planet Of Sound; the talented but fragile Diamond Harry and Neil Mulholland’s durable Midnight Chase. Mouse Morris’s First Lieutenant is the sole entry from Ireland.
Local hopes rest with Sue Smith’s Mr Moonshine, who is also entered in a stellar renewal of the three-mile John Smith’s Hurdle. The headline act is the Nicholls-trained Tidal Bay, a quirky 11-year-old who won an Arkle Trophy when trained by Howard Johnson in County Durham. Ruby Walsh has already been booked for the ride.
Other contenders include last year’s victor Restless Harry, Malcolm Jefferson’s Cheltenham Festival hero Cape Tribulation and the diminutive Fair Along who won the 2009 and 2010 renewals under Rhys Flint.
The Olgb.com Mares’ Hurdle has also attracted the likes of Paul Webber’s Alasi who has struck up an effective rapport with Guiseley-born Dominic Elsworth and Henderson’s rising star Une Artiste.
Former champion jockey John Francome is to succeed the late John Oaksey as president of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund as the charity prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014.