Silviniaco Conti and Zarkandar fuel Cheltenham Festival optimism for Paul Nicholls
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is getting a big kick out of bringing on the next wave of talent following the retirements of Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded.
Losing the high-profile trio, plus a season-ending injury to the brilliant Big Buck’s, left an almost unfillable void at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset.
While horses of their talent come along only rarely, the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Zarkandar are fuelling Nicholls’ optimism.
“The front yard is totally different to how it used to be, but it’s never going to last forever and to have Conti and Zarkandar and lot of nice horses coming through is good,” he said.
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“You have to move on in this game and there’s no point standing still, and you do get a kick out of finding new talent.
“Obviously in the past we had Big Buck’s, Master Minded, Kauto and Denman and it’s a different place now.
“Those older horses are always going move on at some stage and you wonder where you’re going to go.
“We were really struggling last year, we had them all coughing and ill and you kid yourselves that putting them on antibiotics will put them right, but actually it sets them back and they never really recover after that.
“But this season’s been going really well and I’m hoping that next year we’ll be even stronger.
“We’ve got some really nice chances and I’m really looking forward to the Festival.
“No one’s quite got a squad like Nicky Henderson or Willie Mullins, who have got awesome teams, but every bullet has got to count when you run at the Festival and we think we’ve got a great team.
“We probably are underdogs, but we’ve got a lot of chances. It’s so competitive there and all the races take a lot of winning.”
Nicholls, who has won 32 Festival races, is not under quite the same pressure to succeed at this year’s Festival.
While Silviniaco Conti and Zarkandar and have good chances in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Stan James Champion Hurdle respectively, they have not had time to capture the public’s imagination in the way as the stable’s former champions.
Nicholls said: “I think there is less pressure this year, but we always put ourselves under a lot of pressure to do the job right. You have to deal with the pressure of it all.”