It is a measure of the continuing revival of the West Yorkshire track’s signature race of the year that it has attracted horses like the triple Grade One hero Silviniaco Conti, who won the 2012 renewal before landing Haydock’s Betfair Chase later three weeks later.
Silviniaco Conti missed last year’s Charlie Hall and Nicholls attributes this to the horse’s subsequent defeat to Cue Card at Haydock, though the steeplechaser did win the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day before getting the better of a thrilling battle with Dynaste in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree.
“I think you need to have a run to win the Betfair. Last year we needed the run. There is no point going into these big races needing a run. I’ve got it in the back of my mind that he saves his best form for flat tracks,” said Nicholls, who believes the eight-year-old is better suited by flatter surfaces rather than the undulations of Cheltenham where the horse was a disappointing fourth in the Gold Cup.
“After Christmas we’ll freshen him up for the Gold Cup. We found out after the Gold Cup last year that he had a few problems and after tests it turned out he was suffering from stomach ulcers.”
Nicholls has also entered Crabbie’s Grand National fifth Rocky Creek, though he is expected to head to Down Royal.
The Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant is the sole Irish contender for the Grade Two over three miles and a furlong that celebrates the career of a Yorkshire training great.
Last year’s Charlie Hall winner Harry Topper could defend his crown for Kim Bailey, while in-form trainer Philip Hobbs may call upon talented chaser Menorah. Cheltenham Festival winner Taquin Du Seuil, Ballypatrick, Double Ross, Medermit, The Giant Bolster and Wayward Prince complete the list.
Meanwhile, More Of That, unbeaten winner of the Ladrokes World Hurdle, heads 10 entries for the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday.
The six-year-old, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and owned by JP McManus, overcame relative inexperience to take the Cheltenham showpiece on only his fifth start.
The vanquished included McManus stalwart At Fishers Cross who could renew the rivalry in the Grade Two which is registered as the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
More Of That had a racecourse gallop at Chepstow on Saturday under champion jockey AP McCoy who said: “He’s a big, gross horse and it’s a matter of getting him fit. It’s not an impossibility he’d run.”
Tim Easterby has entered Trustan Times while the hugely exciting Philip Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay could use the race as a prep for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of November.