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McCoy is delighted to anoint Johnson as his successor

By Frank Brownlow

Paul Nicholls admits he holds his rival in the highest regard as his enthralling title battle with Willie Mullins comes to what promises to be a thrilling conclusion at Sandown.

This season has been a relatively low-key one for the master of Ditcheat, and yet he is tantalisingly close to being crowned Britain's champion National Hunt trainer for the 10th time.

Mullins - aiming to become the first Irish-based trainer to be claim the British crown since Vincent O'Brien in the 1950s - has remarkably trained less than 30 winners across the Irish Sea this term, but his dominance of the top-class events at Cheltenham and Aintree this spring -where he saddled seven and six winners respectively - put him in a commanding position.

However, Nicholls came roaring back last weekend, with Vicente's Scottish Grand National triumph the highlight of an Ayr four-timer and he has continued in similarly spectacular form since to ensure he now holds the aces ahead of the final day.

"We've had a great season and being competitive you want to win the championship. We want to keep it in the UK rather than it go to Ireland," said Nicholls.

"It's been quite tough this year. We didn't have the Grade One horses we've had in the past.

"You can't just go out and buy horses like Kauto Star and Master Minded any more. Those days are gone.

"Me and Willie Mullins get on great. He's a gentleman, he's a brilliant trainer and we have huge respect for each other."

The trainer's son and assistant Patrick Mullins added: "It's a big day and the general feeling in the yard is we're up against it."

Belfast Telegraph

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