26 April 2024

Nicholls needs Threeunderthrufive to tee-up late charge

26 April 2024

Threeunderthrufive leads Paul Nicholls’ three-pronged assault on Saturday’s bet365 Gold Cup, with the Ditcheat handler admitting he needs a “massive day” as he bids to retain his British trainers’ title.

Nicholls has topped the table 14 times in the last 18 years, with six-times champion Nicky Henderson the only man to deny him victory during that period.

However, he will head into the final day of the current campaign only third in the race, having first been passed by his protege Dan Skelton following his Cheltenham Festival four-timer before Willie Mullins blew both out of the water by claiming Grand National glory at Aintree with I Am Maximus.

A subsequent Ayr four-timer, including the Scottish Grand National success of Macdermott, strengthened Mullins’ position in the lead and Nicholls feels he needs a minor miracle to overhaul the all-conquering Irishman on the final afternoon of the season.

“We’re up against it a little bit but we have some nice chances on Saturday, the horses are running well and we had three winners on Wednesday. We’re going to keep chipping away,” said Nicholls.

“Realistically, I think the only chance I’ve got is trying to beat Dan into second place, but you never know. Willie has got plenty of good horses to run and so have we, but I do think we’re up against it a little bit and we’re going to need a massive day.”

Given he is not represented in the other £170,000 feature on Saturday’s card, the Celebration Chase, winning the bet365 Gold Cup is likely to be Nicholls’ only hope of performing a last-gasp comeback.

Threeunderthrufive appears the stable’s number one hope, having been kept fresh since landing a lucrative prize at Ascot in February.

Nicholls added: “There’s a bit of rain forecast and I just hope with the watering, it doesn’t end up going against him, as he loves good ground.

“He’s in good shape, he’s very fresh and loves going right-handed. He has to carry 12st, but he won with 12st the last day.

“It’s not the hottest bet365 Gold Cup. They all take a lot of winning, but there’s no Gold Cup horses in there, it’s just a good handicap and that’s what he is good at.

“I would like to think he has a big chance.”

The nine-year-old will be ridden by Harry Cobden on the day he is set to be crowned champion jockey and he too fancies his chances.

He said: “I think he has a really good chance. He will like the ground, I think he will stay and the trip won’t be a problem.

“He’s fresh and well, Paul has trained him for the race and I think it was a career best at Ascot last time, he’s going the right way.”

Nicholls is also represented by Enrilo, who passed the post in front in the 2021 bet365 Gold Cup before later being demoted to third due to causing interference, as well as Flash Collonges.

“Enrilo was an unlucky loser three years ago, he’s been running OK but needs to step up his game, while Flash Collonges has been a total disaster all season, with the ground being soft,” said the trainer.

“I don’t want to see any rain for him and he’s got blinkers on for the first time to sharpen him up, but he needs to improve on what he’s done so far this season.”

Mullins is also triple-handed, with Paul Townend siding with Nick Rockett over stablemates Minella Cocooner (Danny Mullins) and Aime Desjy (Sean O’Keeffe).

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “I’d say it was a tough decision for Paul, there’s not a lot between Nick Rockett and Minella Cocooner if you look at their profiles.

“I think the nicer ground and maybe the softer fences will be a help to Nick Rockett, he’s not an overly big horse and hopefully that should help him improve on his Irish National run (finished seventh).

“Minella Cocooner ran an absolute cracker in the Irish National (finished third) and the trip will suit him and the ground is fine for him as well.

“Aime Desjy ran a cracker over the National fences in the Topham Chase at Aintree a couple of weeks ago and the step up in trip should suit him well. He’s got a lovely weight (10st 13lb) and he’d have to be a lively outsider.”

The likely favourite is Christian Williams’ popular defending champion Kitty’s Light, who is sent back into action just two weeks after a fantastic effort when fifth in the National at Aintree.

“He seems in good order, obviously another fortnight would have been nice. He did it off the back of a week last year, having won the Scottish National the week before, but I think he was probably well handicapped last year and he’s 5lb higher in the weights now,” said Williams.

“He obviously runs well in the race and it’s the last big race of the year. He’s run in it the last three years and seems to like the place, it’s a bit of a specialist race, so we were always going to try to go for it unless we had a major reason not to.

“He takes his races well usually and seems in good heart. It’s a hard race to win but we’ll be trying our best.”

Skelton relies upon the 2022 Coral Gold Cup winner Le Milos, who has disappointed since running in last year’s Grand National, while other contenders include Henry de Bromhead’s Amirite and Sam England’s stable star Kinondo Kwetu.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox