03 March 2022

‘Electric’ Bravemansgame living up to all expectations for buoyant Nicholls

03 March 2022

Paul Nicholls is keen to let Bravemansgame do the talking as the star novice chaser prepares to lead Team Ditcheat’s challenge at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

It was after the seven-year-old romped home in the 2020 Challow Novices’ Hurdle that the 12-times champion trainer first mentioned the £370,000 purchase in the same breath as the great Denman – and the comparisons are obvious.

Like the 2008 Gold Cup hero Bravemansgame had to make do with minor honours on his first visit to the Festival in last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, finishing third behind the impressive Bob Olinger.

And in a fortnight’s time he will now bid to emulate the one-time Nicholls star by landing the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (formerly the RSA).

“When I first compared him to Denman, he’d just won the Challow, as Denman had,” Nicholls said during a press morning at his yard on Thursday.

“He’s rated higher now than Denman was after he won the Brown Advisory. There’s a lot of similarities in terms of what they’ve done, but you can’t compare generations really.

“He can only beaten what’s put in front of him. It doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, but he’s certainly gone the right way anyway.

“Denman probably never had as much boot as this horse. He was an out-and-out galloper and stayer, whereas this horse has plenty of speed. For a big horse in our school he is electric.

“He’s just a lovely horse who has that class. We don’t need to make comparisons with anything else, we’ll see what the future brings.”

Bravemansgame is a fantastic looking horse and has done everything right

Bravemansgame has been foot-perfect in winning each of his four starts over fences to date, most recently giving away lumps of weight in a handicap at Newbury.

His potential rivals at Cheltenham include Lucinda Russell’s Ahoy Senor, whom he readily swept aside at Kempton over Christmas, and the Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs.

Mullins has suggested he is favouring the shorter Turners’ Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds, however.

“Bravemansgame is a fantastic looking horse and has done everything right,” Nicholls added.

“We got well and truly put in our place last year by Bob Olinger, but he still ran well.

Bravemansgame on his way to victory at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA) (PA Wire)

“He’s won four from four this season and is now rated 164, which is a high mark for a novice.

“Nobody knows what is going to turn up, but he’ll run in the three-mile race unless it was really attractional. If it got heavy we might think about the shorter race.

“If a horse like Galopin Des Champs turns up of course you’d be nervous, but we’re going into it with a stronger horse than we had last year and he keeps winning – he’s a lovely horse with a lovely chance.”

Bravemansgame is likely to be joined in the Brown Advisory by stablemate Threeunderthrufive, who has also won his last four races over fences.

The Shantou gelding holds alternative options in the Ultima and the National Hunt Chase, but is set to bid for Grade One glory.

Threeunderthrufive is enjoying an excellent season (Simon Marper/PA) (PA Wire)

Nicholls said: “He’s won his last last four. I think we placed him quite nicely to win those races, but he’s tough, genuine and stays.

“He’s going to run in the Brown Advisory alongside Bravemansgame at the request of the owner. They’re quite keen for Adrian (Heskin) to stay on him.

“He is in the Ultima on the first day but they’ve got another horse, so he won’t run in that, and he’s still in the amateur race.

“If I had a free hand and they weren’t so keen I would have a look at that, although I wouldn’t be conclusive about it.

“Whatever race he runs in, he’s tough and genuine and he’s probably a little bit under the radar.”

The trainer’s team of older horses includes the Ryanair Chase-bound Saint Calvados and the ever-popular Frodon, who could revert to handicap company for the Ultima.

Saint Calvados needs to bounce back from a disappointing effort in last month’s Ascot Chase, but Nicholls has reason to be optimistic.

He said: “He was second in the Ryanair two seasons ago and I think we worked out at Ascot the other day that he needs to go left-handed and also wants good ground.

“He ran very well in the King George when he got there too soon and he bled the other day at Ascot, so we’ve changed his routine accordingly.

“I haven’t written him off yet and if we can get some nice spring ground there’ll be a nice race in him somewhere. He can be very competitive in a race like the Ryanair.”

Frodon and Bryony Frost after winning at Down Royal (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)

Frodon would also have a point to prove after failing to fire in the Irish Gold Cup, although his Festival participation is very much ground dependent.

“He’s been an amazing horse and he won what was his Gold Cup first time out this year at Down Royal,” Nicholls continued.

“It didn’t quite work out in the King George when they went a bit quick and the ground was a bit soft, and he didn’t run a particularly good race at Leopardstown. He probably wants better ground now..

“He’s rated 164, which is the same mark he won his last handicap off two years ago at Cheltenham.

“He went to Wincanton and worked this morning and didn’t particularly like the soft ground, so we’re just going to monitor what the ground does. If it was soft on the first day of Cheltenham, I’ll wait for Sandown I suspect, or even consider Aintree if the ground was good.”

Paul Nicholls speaks to the assembled press at his Ditcheat yard (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire)

Nicholls rates hunter chase contender Bob and Co as one of his “best chances of the week”, while Il Ridoto and Thyme White will give a strong hand in the Grand Annual

He said: “Il Ridoto needs a gallop like he’ll get in the Grand Annual, where they’ll go absolutely flat out and he can creep through and hopefully stay on up the hill. He’s got an each-way chance.

“We’ve protected Thyme White’s mark by not running him since he won at Doncaster in December. He went to Wincanton this morning and really caught my eye – he worked beautifully.

“He’s a lovely, big horse. He’s got to overcome inexperience, but he does travel well and he does jump well, so I’d like to think he’s got a great chance.”

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