For Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, the 2020 Cheltenham Festival challenge looks set to be one of selectivity and pragmatism, with a modest group of runners geared towards maximising his chances of success. Solo is the hot favourite for the Triumph Hurdle on the Friday of the Festival, and looks to be Nicholls’ best chance of success on that day, but another of his horses, Clan Des Obeaux, will be aiming to cause a stir in the showpiece event – the Gold Cup.
Clan Des Obeaux is a horse with a fine record, having won the prestigious King George VI Chase two years running. He placed fifth in last year’s Gold Cup, and Nicholls will be hoping that he will have gained sufficient experience in 2019 to make a stronger push this time around. The trainer has been in confident mood about Clan Des Obeaux’s chances with Cheltenham looming ever closer.
“We’re thrilled with him and he’s had a great preparation, everything’s gone right,” Nicholls said. “We’ve been able to work him really hard – which suits him. He’s just where we want him to be.
“I think he’s got a good chance. He’s a dual King George winner and he’s definitely a better horse this year. I’m very happy with him. It suits him to be very fit and fresh and last year he came to Cheltenham having run at Ascot, which was close enough to the festival. He’s just got to prove it at Cheltenham, because he hasn’t yet, but I think he can do that easily.”
Nicholls makes a salient point about being fresh heading into the Festival. Clan Des Obeaux enters the Gold Cup having not raced since his King George triumph on Boxing Day, and that fitness could make all the difference in what is bound to be a tightly-contested race. The current Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup odds place Clan Des Obeaux as fifth-favourite, behind Santini, last year’s winner Al Boum Photo, Delta Work and Lostintranslation. But without the stresses of having raced in January and February, Nicholls’ horse could well be set to overcome those odds.
It will be interesting to see who rides Clan Des Obeaux in the Gold Cup. Harry Cobden had been in the saddle for nearly two years’ worth of races before the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December, when Sam Twiston-Davies took the reins and guided the horse to a second successive victory. Twiston-Davies rode Clan Des Obeaux on and off in the horse’s early career, and the King George win proved that there is still an affinity between horse and jockey.
Nicholls is in fine form in recent months, counting 44 winners in January and February, and he’ll be hoping that this has all been building towards success at Cheltenham. In Clan Des Obeaux, he has a horse who may not be favourite for the prestigious Gold Cup, but may just have the talent and quality to spring a shock when push comes to shove in the Cheltenham showpiece. After all, there’s no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing.