Nicholls sets sights on Sandown ‘title decider’


Paul Nicholls: leads in his bid for a tenth trainers’ championship

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

PAUL NICHOLLS has identified Sandown’s bet365 Gold Cup fixture on Saturday as being judgement day in his epic battle with Willie Mullins for the British jumps trainers’ title.

The nine-time champion breathed new life into the duel with a sensational four-timer on Scotland’s richest jumping card at Ayr on Saturday, the highlight of which was the novice Vicente, who contributed a much-needed £119,595 to his tally by winning the Coral Scottish Grand National.

Before the start of racing on Sunday, Nicholls had inched ahead by £33,087 and although there are 18 jumps fixture before the season draws to a close, it is the last one that the trainer feels will matter most.

“There’s good prize-money during the week but at the end of the day it is the big races at Sandown at the weekend that are going to make the difference,” he said.

“There are seven good races at Sandown on Saturday and we’ve got something for most of them and they’ll be headed up by Southfield Theatre who we’ve aimed at the bet365 Gold Cup.”

Dodging Bullets could step up in trip

With £485,000 up for grabs at the meeting, Nicholls also plans to include Dodging Bullets, who could be diverted away from a potential rematch with Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre in the bet365 Celebration Chase.

“I might put him in the two-and-half miler [bet365 Oaksey Chase] and have a look at that.” he said. “He’s got to come back from a couple of disappointing runs but he’s fine and and should appreciate the likely better ground as it looks like it’s going to be a dry week.”

Sam Twiston-Davies riding Dodging Bullets

Dodging Bullets: won the Tingle Creek at Sandown last season

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

Before then, Nicholls will have runners close to home, starting with four at Wincanton on Sunday, after deciding against following Mullins up to Perth’s three-day festival.

Perth no-show

“We’ve got plenty to run at the West Country meetings but I’m not going to Perth with anything as I don’t have the right horses for those races.”

Nicholls’ celebrations at Ayr on Saturday left onlookers in no doubt how important he views the championship, which he has failed to win only once in the last ten seasons.

“We would like to win the championship and keep it in the UK rather than it going over to Ireland,” he said on At The Races.

From being a 5-1 shot a week ago, Nicholls is now odds-on favourite to lift the trophy. He can be backed at 4-5 with Paddy Power, while Mullins is as big as 11-8 with BetVictor.

On his relationship with Mullins, the trainer added: “We’ve always got on great. We shake hands and text each other from time to time. He’s a gentleman and a brilliant trainer and we have a lot of respect for each other.”


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