Paul Nicholls juggles Cheltenham Festival entries after successful weekend of trial runs
Silviniaco Conti is set to be Somerset-based Paul Nicholls’ main contender for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, with the champion trainer confirming Tidal Bay is more likely to contest the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival.
The Lexus Chase winner remains among the entries for the chasing blue riband but, writing in his column for Betfair, Nicholls said: “We have yet to finalise plans but we are now highly likely to run Tidal Bay in the World Hurdle.
“Of course, we will leave him in the Gold Cup until the last minute, but as it stands our plan with him is the World Hurdle and then the Grand National.”
Silviniaco Conti, who is second favourite for the Gold Cup, heads to the meeting unbeaten in three starts this season after coming through his prep run in last Saturday’s Denman Chase at Newbury.
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Nicholls said: “People don’t believe you when you say you have left a lot to work on with horses in these prep races – they think it is a matter of getting your excuses in early – but, trust me, that would have been like his first run of the season for him. So it was a great result, with so much to build on fitness-wise.”
Unioniste, who had been working with Silviniaco Conti, took a novices chase on the same card at the weekend and Nicholls confirmed: “He goes straight to Cheltenham and the Sun Alliance [RSA Chase] is the plan, but if it came up heavy then the Jewson could become an option.”
Stablemate Zarkandar, a contender for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, is to run in next weekend’s Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, with Rocky Creek pencilled in for the Reynoldstown at Ascot on the same day.
Lac Fontana, who was second on his British debut at Newbury, will be given further practice in the Adonis Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton in a fortnight, while the disappointment of the weekend was the fall of Arkle hope Fago at Warwick.
Nicholls said: “Fago was the one that got away, as he was travelling hard on the bit when falling. I don’t like going to Cheltenham on the back of a fall, but he is fine and the Pendil Novice Chase at Kempton or the two miles and one furlong novice at Sandown in the next couple of weeks are options for him.”