Kauto not the only Star in Nicholls stable
The notion that Paul Nicholls would have to look to his laurels as champion trainer this season seems to have been quietly and quickly discarded.
Halfway through the campaign, his is the only stable past £1m, already around £300,000 clear of Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Admittedly Nicky Henderson, who had been perceived as his most feasible rival, does field two challengers to Kauto Star in the rescheduled King George VI Chase at Kempton on Saturday.
But those trying to make a case for Long Run and Riverside Theatre were yesterday given intimidating new evidence that the Nicholls hegemony remains as strong as ever.
First there was the publication of 34 entries for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, predictably dominated by the three previous winners who together guarantee another vintage race on March 18.
Two, Kauto Star and Denman, are famously stabled in adjacent stalls at Ditcheat. But Nicholls has also seen fit to enter five other horses, including a couple of rising stars in Pride Of Dulcote and The Nightingale, winner of the Ladbrokes.com Chase at the Down Royal Festival in November.
Among British yards, only Henderson and Jonjo O'Neill could muster even two entries. Henderson has entered Long Run and Punchestowns, who was turned over on his reappearance at Newbury last month — by Pride Of Dulcote, who was having just his second start over fences.
Then, as if to reinforce the point, bookies reported fresh support for just about the only horse being backed to deny Kauto Star that fifth King George. That is none other than The Nightingale.
Nicholls himself admitted: “If Kauto wasn't in the race, I would really fancy him strongly.”
He also acknowledged that the postponement had worked in favour of The Nightingale, conditions now being much softer than had been expected on Boxing Day.
Even at the time, however, he had given the younger horse an enthusiastic endorsement.
“If it were a handicap, he would be giving Long Run weight,” he said. “He's an unexposed, improving horse and if you look at the others you could only really say that of Riverside Theatre.
“Since having a breathing operation, he has not looked back and he's bred to stay.”
Little wonder that The Nightingale is now 10-1 from 12-1, though there remains plenty of confidence behind the favourite, too, now 4-6 from 8-11.
Only the most parochial will overlook the start of the Dubai International Carnival today.
Both Godolphin trainers will be keen to land running, with five runners between them in Round One of the Maktoum Challenge.
Of particular interest are Mendip, who looked a star in the making until World Cup night last year, and has not been seen since, and Storm Ultralight, a Uruguayan import who thrashed a Group-race operator at Lingfield last spring, but disappeared after being beaten next time.