Paul Nicholls welcomes better preparation for 2013 Cheltenham Festival
Paul Nicholls says he is heading into the Cheltenham Festival in a better place after the trials and tribulations of 12 months ago.
In the lead-up to the 2012 Festival, a cough developed in the champion trainer's Ditcheat yard, while leading chaser Kauto Star suffered a fall in schooling just weeks ahead of the Gold Cup. That led to the two-time winner being pulled up in his final race before retirement.
Having been put through the mill in the build-up to National Hunt racing's showpiece event last year, Nicholls is glad his preparation has been much smoother ahead of this year's Festival, which gets under way on Tuesday, March 12.
"This time last year we were in a bit of different place," said Nicholls at last week's pre- Festival open day.
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"We had to cancel our media day because the horses were coughing and we were going into the Festival on the back of having a nightmare.
"This year's totally different. We've had loads of winners and the horses are really well and healthy. We're much happier than we were 12 months ago."
As well as coping with the retirement of Kauto Star, Nicholls is also heading to the Festival without the injured Big Buck's – a four-time winner of the World Hurdle.
Nicholls, however, says the good form of his young charges has made the losses from his yard easier to bare.
Silviniaco Conti is among the favourites for the Gold Cup, having won the Betfair Chase and Denman Chase, while Zarkandar should do well in the Champion Hurdle and is unbeaten in his three starts this season.
"The front yard is totally different now to what it ever used to be, but then what we had before was never going to last forever," said Nicholls.
"I think there probably is a bit less pressure. When you've got Big Buck's and Kauto and Denman, there was a huge amount of pressure and all the media and publicity surrounding it makes it tough.
"It was a nice place to be but it was quite tough because you do have to deal with the pressure of it all.
"Those old horses were always going to have their lifetime and were always going to have to move on. I think we're in a totally different place now and it's good.
"You wonder where you are going to go but the season just kept on going really well from the start and we were doing really well and winning decent races
"To have Conti coming on through and Zarkandar and a lot of other nice young horses is good.
"You do get a kick out of finding new young talent and bringing on those four-year- olds who are going to make the chasers of the future.
"It's fantastic because you have to keep moving on in this game – it's no good standing still. To have those horses coming through is brilliant for the whole team. We're looking forward to the next few years."
For more news and pictures from Paul Nicholls' pre- Cheltenham Festival media day, turn to page 79.