Sixteen winners and a 39% strike-rate in October have pushed Paul Nicholls to the top of the market for the 2020-21 National Hunt trainers’ championship and his prospects of claiming the King George VI Chase at Kempton for the third year running also improved on Monday, when Nicky Henderson, his perennial rival for the title, suggested that his leading chasers Champ and Santini are far from certain to line up for the Boxing Day race.
The two horses were third and fourth respectively in the ante-post betting on Monday morning at around 8-1, but were pushed out to 12-1 by Paddy Power after Henderson said that both could bypass Kempton on the way to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Clan Des Obeaux, meanwhile, is 7-2 (from 4-1) to give Nicholls a third successive win in the race while his stable companion Cyrname is 10-1 (from 11-1).
Champ’s last-gasp win in the RSA Chase in March was one of the most memorable moments of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival but he needed every yard of the trip and the hill to get home, and the Savills Chase at Leopardstown is being considered as an alternative.
“Champ is not quite as far forward as some,” Henderson said. “We have just looked at his wind but that is all sorted now, however he is a little bit behind the others in the A-squad.
“I don’t think he will go to Sandown for the intermediate chase [in November] and we aren’t that keen on the idea of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, and I don’t think Kempton is really his track either. The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree [in early December] is a possibility, and there is a serious chance he could go to Ireland for the Savills Chase at Christmas.
Greg Wood’s Tuesday tips
Yarmouth 12.25 Thunder Drum 12.55 Glesga Gal
1.25 Abilene Paradox 2.00 Inver Park 2.35 Whitehaven 3.10 Fox Shinji (nb) 3.45 Selecto
4.20 True Belief 4.50 Leo Davinci
Exeter 12.40 Knight Commander 1.10 Ishyaboi 1.40 Shantou Express 2.15 Oscars Moonshine
2.50 Sizing At Midnight 3.25 Zoffee
4.00 Twasn’t The Plan 4.30 Silent Partner
Newcastle 1.50 Calvinist 2.25 Cordouan 3.00 Illusionist 3.35 Yazaman 4.10 Top Attraction 4.40 Kilconquhar 5.10 Burrows Seeside 5.40 Arcavallo
Kempton 4.35 Bezzas Lad 5.05 Night Narcissus 5.35 Star Of Epsom 6.10 Takeonefortheteam
6.40 Strong Power (nap) 7.10 Culture
7.40 Durrell 8.10 Treaty Of Dingle
“We are trying to get Santini ready for the Betfair Chase at Haydock [in November]. I don’t think he will go to Kempton for the King George, because when he got beaten in the Feltham [Novice Chase in 2018] I didn’t think it was his track that day.”
Nicholls won his 11th trainers’ championship – four short of Martin Pipe’s all-time record – in the 2018-2019 season but surrendered the title to Henderson in the truncated 2019-20 season, which ended just a few days after the Cheltenham Festival.
He has made an accelerated start to the current campaign, with 32 winners since July and £255,000 in prize money, while Henderson, who is again expected to be his only serious rival for the crown, is only 11th in the early table with £101,000 in the bank.
Henderson was a 4-9 shot to retain the title in July with Nicholls available at 13-8, but the respective odds are now evens and 8-11 going into the two-day Showcase meeting at Cheltenham which opens on Friday and is, for many, the moment when the National Hunt campaign begins in earnest.
The Flat season, meanwhile, will draw to a close without its top-rated horse after the announcement on Monday that Ghaiyyath, whose relentless, front-running style carried him to three Group One wins over the summer, will miss the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland in Kentucky on 7 November and retire to stand at Kildangan stud in Ireland. The five-year-old was found to be showing signs of muscle soreness after a routine workout at Charlie Appleby’s stable in Newmarket over the weekend.
Ghaiyyath had shown glimpses of his exceptional talent in 2018 and 2019 but needed plenty of time between races to show his best form. In 2020, however, he matured into a horse who could cope with regular trips to the track, recording Group One wins in the Coronation Cup, the Eclipse Stakes and the International Stakes in consecutive months before finishing a close second behind Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes on what proved to be his final run.
“His high-class cruising speed and relentless style of galloping was a joy to watch,” Appleby said on Monday, “and as I have said before, this year he came together both physically and mentally and looked the finished article. It is obviously disappointing not to be taking him to the Breeders’ Cup but the exertions of a long season, which started in Dubai in January, were starting to show.”
Ghaiyyath retires as the world’s top-rated horse in 2020 on a mark of 130, 4lb in front of Palace Pier, the beaten favourite in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and 6lb in front of Enable, who finished behind him in the Eclipse Stakes in July.
In his absence Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul has been cut to 2-1 favourite (from 3-1) for the Turf by Ladbrokes, with his stable companion Magical on 3-1 alongside Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa.