Paul Nicholls will step McFabulous back up in trip to three miles for the first time in a year when he lines up in the Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day on Saturday.
Festival Trials Day offers a record £460,000 in prize money for 2022 (up from £349,000 in 2020) and Saturday’s programme now has the added bonus of an extra race with the addition of the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Bumper, which has been transferred to Cheltenham following the abandonment of Market Rasen’s fixture last Friday.
Eight year old McFabulous, who is one of five potential runners at the fixture for 12-times champion Jump trainer Nicholls, will revert back to three miles for the first time in more than a year when going in search of his fourth Grade Two success in the £60,000 contest.
After meeting with a setback in the early part of the season McFabulous found only Stormy Ireland too strong on his comeback when attempting to defend his Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle crown over an extended 2m 4f at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
With that run under his belt Nicholls believes that McFabulous can take a step forward when tackling three miles for the first time since finishing third in the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November 2020.
He said: “He ran a tidy enough race in the Relkeel. He stayed on strongly and he wants three miles now.
“The big thing about this weekend is that I probably wouldn’t run him in the Cleeve but it is a dry forecast and that ground will suit him.
“He had a setback early in the season which held me back a bit but hopefully he will give a good account of himself.
“I was pleased to see that he jumped and travelled well on his comeback. He didn’t have the greatest run down to the last but he flew up the hill and he quite obviously needs a bit further.
“They don’t normally need a run but we had been rushing him because he had a problem, so the run would have brought him on.
“We thought it is a bit late to go chasing so let’s go down this route and it will tell us where we go afterwards.”
Despite McFabulous failing to quite get home on his previous attempt over the trip, Nicholls believes he could be a good each-way price for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival™ if seeing out three miles at the weekend.
He added: “On that run at Newbury it gives him a good chance on Saturday as he was beaten by two good horses.
“He was a bit keen that day and he has had a wind operation since as I think that his wind was troubling him.
“All in all, I’d like to think we have got a nice chance on Saturday. He could be a nice each-way price for the Stayers’ Hurdle but let’s see how he runs on Saturday.”
A step up in trip also appears to be on the cards for Simply The Betts with Nicholls leaning towards running the nine year old over an extended 3m 1f for the first time in his career in the Grade Two Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
The Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned gelding, who also holds an entry in the Grade Three Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase (2m 4f 127y), is without a victory to his name since landing the 2020 Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at The Festival.
Nicholls said: “I’d say that looking at it, if it is dry, we will be going to the Cotswold Chase as the other race he would have to be running off 157 which would be very hard.
“If it was testing ground I wouldn't want to go three miles one, but it is going to be nice drying ground on Saturday.
“He loves Cheltenham and he stayed on strongly there last time over the extended two and a half miles.
“Harry (Cobden) said you wouldn’t be afraid to go back up to three miles with him. The one time we tried it at Aintree it was absolutely bottomless.
“He is in good shape and he loves Cheltenham so I think that is the race to run him in. I need to talk to Andrew Brooks and his racing manager before the end of the week but I’d say that is what I favour.”
Nicholls hope Iceo can produce another “wow” moment when attempting to enhance his Festival prospects by following up his impressive British debut at Kempton Park last month in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
Nicholls said: “He was very impressive at Kempton. Cheltenham is a completely different track but he is in the Triumph Hurdle and if we are going to go to the Triumph Hurdle we need a nice run at Cheltenham to see if he can cope with the track.
“I didn’t know what to expect at Kempton but my immediate impression was wow! The way he won with a penalty on his back the further he went the better he went.
“It was a good performance but as I said he needs to do it on a different track.
“If he doesn’t the Triumph Hurdle will be out of the window and he will go back to Kempton for the Adonis.
“There is no reason why he shouldn’t act at Cheltenham but we will see but Saturday will tell us a lot more.”
Solo could bid to secure a first victory since running out a stylish winner of the Grade Two Adonis Juvenile at Kempton Park in 2020 by opening his account over fences at the fourth time of asking in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (2m 4f 127y).
Nicholls said: “We will have a look at the novice handicap chase before we decide to run or not.
“I think the extended 2m 4f on better ground will suit him a lot better than the two miles we ran him over the last day at Kempton.
“He ran very the first two and two miles looks sharp enough for him. He has been running nicely and he will drop in a nice race somewhere.”
Nicholls feels that the drying conditions at Cheltenham will play to the strengths of Magic Saint, who is likely to be his representative in the Grade Three Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase.
Nicholls said: “He ran a blinder the other day. He just got caught out over that trip on the ground. He is worth an entry in the race.
“He has been dropped two pounds and if we have Tom (Buckley) on him who claims five pounds, he is not without a chance.”