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Paul Nicholls: Highest-rated racehorses

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We list Paul Nicholls's highest-rated National Hunt racehorses on Timeform ratings.

1. Kauto Star (Timeform rating 191)

Kauto Star was a phenomenal racehorse, successful in no fewer than 16 Grade 1s in a career that lasted nine years.

He was a useful hurdler when trained in France, but was switched to Paul Nicholls in the 2004/5 season and quickly developed into a much better chaser. Kauto Star made a most impressive start in a novice chase at Newbury, and was remarkably beaten only a short-head at Exeter on his following outing having fallen and been remounted.

Kauto Star won the Tingle Creek at Sandown the following season, but it was in 2006/7 that Kauto Star really announced himself on the scene, winning all six of his starts, notably the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the King George at Kempton and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

In an outstanding career, Kauto Star would go on to win the Betfair Chase four times, the King George a record five times, and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham twice. The 2011/12 season will be remembered as the most heart-warming, Kauto Star turning back the clock to produce top-class performances to topple the reigning Gold Cup winner Long Run in the Betfair Chase and King George at the age of 11.

Kauto Star was pulled up at the ninth on his final start in the Gold Cup later that season, his final appearance, like that of the great hurdler Istabraq, something of an anti-climax. However, Kauto Star will long be remembered for his exploits, a superb jumper at his best, whose career was notable for its longevity as well as unprecedented success.

2. See More Business (Timeform rating 182)

See More Business showed useful form in an unbeaten season over hurdles in 1994/95 and developed into one of the best chasers of his generation.

See More Business endured an indifferent first season as a novice, winning on his chasing debut and showing high-class form when runner-up to Dorans Pride on his next two starts before falling in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton on his final start that season.

His jumping improved in 1997/98 and See More Business was a good winner of the King George at Kempton, his stamina coming into play after the last in soft ground. A win at Cheltenham followed before he was most unlucky when carried out at the seventh in the Gold Cup after.

See More Business took his form up a notch when winning the 1999 renewal of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in first-time blinkers. The headgear totally revitalised him, gone were the mistakes and the laziness of past displays, travelling and jumping well under an uncharacteristically patient ride.

The following season proved his most authoritative, putting up a career-best performance to win a second King George, producing a virtually faultless round of jumping.

See More Business was still capable of high-class form in 2002/3, but age caught up with him the following campaign, connections retiring him after attempting to win the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow for the fourth time as a 13-year-old.

2= Azertyuiop (Timeform rating 182)

Azertyuiop often impressed in appearance (a tall, good-topped gelding) and was an outstanding chaser at his best. Another French recruit for the yard, he showed smart form over hurdles, notably winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in 2001/2.

He was sent chasing the following season and looked a novice right out of the top drawer, winning all four starts and producing a top-class effort to win the Arkle at Cheltenham. That performance was every bit as good as the one which saw Moscow Flyer run away with the race in similarly impressive fashion the year before.

Azertyuiop didn’t enjoy the best start to the 2003/4 season, unseating his rider at the first on his return in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, and finishing runner-up in the Tingle Creek at Sandown , but he put up an outstanding effort in defeat in the Victor Chandler at Ascot, going down by only a neck having conceded 19 lb to the winner.

He quickly got back on the winning trail, however, when landing the odds in the Game Spirit at Newbury, and then put up an impressive display to run out a nine-length winner of the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

After playing his part in a spectacular Tingle Creek in which he finishes runner-up to Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop was tried over three miles in the King George and was certainly not disgraced in third over a trip which seemed to stretch him. However, he was right back to his very best when winning a second Game Spirit on his next start, and it was a pity that a bad mistake ended his chance in a rematch with Moscow Flyer in the Champion Chase after.

He only raced on one more occasion, finishing runner-up to Well Chief in the Celebration Chase.

4. Denman (Timeform rating 181)

Denman, affectionately known as ‘The Tank’, was a brilliant staying chaser and one who warmed the hearts of many.

Denman was a smart novice hurdler in 2005/6, his only defeat coming in the Royal Sunalliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but his physique suggested he was always going to make up into an even better chaser. Denman duly won all five of his starts over fences the following season, showing top-class form when winning a three-runner novice at Newbury, before posting a commanding success in the Royal Sunalliance Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Denman again went unbeaten in 2007/8, starting his season with a brilliant weight-carrying performance in the Hennessy at Newbury, and finishing with a scintillating win against his better-fancied stablemate Kauto Star in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Denman put up a brilliant display, never looking in trouble after jumping on at the eleventh, galloping on relentlessly and 12 lengths clear at the second-last before tiring a little on the run-in.

Denman will be equally remembered for his second Hennessy win in 2009/10, again carrying top weight to victory. Denman gave upwards of 12 lb away all round in the most competitive of handicaps with a performance that epitomised everything he is about, jumping boldly and displaying an outstanding attitude when joined briefly by the runner-up approaching the last, battling back and powering away.

That was Denman’s last win, but he showed he was still capable of top-class form when attempting to win a third Hennessy the following year, and he will be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

5. Master Minded (Timeform rating 179)

Master Minded was another success story for the same connections as Kauto Star purchased out of France, and possibly one of the best jumpers of a fence seen this decade.

Admittedly, he wasn’t too assured in the jumping department on his first start in Britain, unseating his rider at the third in a graduation event at Exeter in 2007/8, but that was short lived, with Master Minded going on to win his next three starts, including an imperious display in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. That performance put him head and shoulders above the rest of the two-mile chases of the last several years in that era.

More of the same followed the following season, Master Minded only seen on the track three times, but winning all of those in excellent fashion, and became the first horse since Viking Flagship (in 1994 and 1995) to land back-to-back renewals of the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Master Minded came some way short when trying to win a hat-trick of Champion Chases the following season, but had still shown he was capable of top-class form in the Game Spirit on his previous start.

The Champion Chase was the only race to evade Master Minded in 2010/11, and he showed himself capable of top-class form at two and a half miles also when winning the Melling Chase at Aintree on his final start that season, looking as good as ever as he recorded his third Grade 1 success of the campaign.

Master Minded finished lame in the King George at Kempton on his final start in 2011/12, suffering a serious injury, and one which ultimately ended his career. It was a shame that he went out on such a low note, but that should not detract from an excellent career, a superb jumper who oozed class at his best.

6. Big Buck’s (Timeform rating 176)

Big Buck’s was an outstanding staying hurdler who was unbeaten in his first 18 starts in that sphere in Britain.

Big Buck’s was another recruit from France originally purchased to go chasing with – he had the right physique for fences, tall and leggy – and he did indeed develop into a very smart performer over fences in 2007/8, notably winning the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

However, after unseating his rider in the Hennessy on his return the following season (he would have likely finished third at best), connections made the decision to revert to hurdles. Big Buck’s would win his next four starts that season, including the Cleeve Hurdle and World Hurdle, both at Cheltenham.

The same story continued for the next three seasons, Big Buck’s often following a similar route, with his campaign geared around the Cheltenham Festival. He made history when landing the Liverpool Hurdle in 2012, his 17th success setting a new benchmark for consecutive wins in National Hunt racing, and he extended the winning streak to 18 when landing the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on his only start in the 2012/13 season.

That would prove to be his final win, but his CV is one of the best around, including four consecutive wins in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

6= Silviniaco Conti (Timeform rating 176)

Silviniaco Conti was a smart hurdler who developed into a top-class chaser at best, winning seven times at the highest level in total.

Silviniaco Conti progressed well in his second season over fences, winning his first three starts, namely the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the Denman Chase at Newbury. Silviniaco Conti started at 4/1 in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham on his next start, and was still travelling with purpose when falling three from home.

Silviniaco Conti went on to win the King George at Kempton for the next two seasons, his best performance in the race coming in 2013/14, when beating Cue Card by three and a half lengths. His best effort in the Gold Cup also came that season, when finishing fourth to 20/1 winner Lord Windermere.

The final victory of Silviniaco Conti’s career came in the Ascot Chase in 2015/16. It was a dominant display in what wasn’t the deepest field, Silviniaco Conti perked up by first-time blinkers to prove he was still a force at the highest level, showing form not far off his best.

8. Tidal Bay (Timeform rating 174)

Tidal Bay spent five seasons with Howard Johnson before joining Paul Nicholls in the 2012/13 season when an 11-year-old.

Tidal Bay wasn’t always the most straightforward – he had the Timeform squiggle attached to his rating when joining Nicholls – but there was no doubt he always possessed plenty of ability, and it is testament to Nicholls’ aptitude as a trainer that he was able to eke it out of him at such an age.

Tidal Bay had been shaping better than his finishing positions had suggested in the run up to the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, but the performance he put up to record his first win since the 2010 Cleeve Hurdle was nothing short of extraordinary. The switch to giving weight to lesser rivals over a longer trip seeming to suit him ideally, able to travel more comfortably before quickening up impressively after the last.

Tidal Bay produced a similar performance the following season when winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. He had finished second in the Hennessy at Newbury beforehand, so was in top form, and again showcased an eye-catching turn of foot to narrowly prevail, still having plenty to do after the last, but staying on strongly to get up in the dying strides.

Tidal Bay often carried his head high, and had his quirks, but is remembered as a top-class horse who was a credit to his connections.

8= Cyrname (Timeform rating 174)

Cyrname was only useful over hurdles, and didn’t immediately strike as a potential top-class chaser, winning a handicap from a mark of 130 on his debut over fences at Huntingdon in 2017/18.

However, he won twice in Grade 2 company later that season, namely in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase and Pendil Novices’ Chase, both at Kempton. Both of those victories came under customary front-running rides, but Cyrname was often too keen for his own good and wore a hood on his first 11 starts for Nicholls.

Ironically, it was when the headgear was removed that Cyrname finally began to fulfil his potential, producing a couple of top-class efforts at Ascot to win a competitive handicap and the Ascot Chase on his final two starts in 2018/19.

Cyrname took the biggest scalp of his career on his season return in 2019/20 when convincingly beating Altior – who had previously been unbeaten over jumps – in the 1965 Chase back at Ascot.

That race clearly took plenty out of Cyrname, as he has been below par in the King George at Kempton and Ascot Chase since. However, Nicholls is a master at bringing horses back to top form and, still an eight-year-old, there will hopefully be plenty more to look forward to from Cyrname next season.

10. Neptune Collonges (Timeform rating 170)

Neptune Collonges was unlucky to be around in the same era as his outstanding stablemates Kauto Star and Denman, but he was a top-class chaser in his own right, and enjoyed his big day in the spotlight when winning the 2012 Grand National.

He had been rejuvenated by Nicholls that season, finishing runner-up in the Grand National Trial at Haydock, and he put up a top-class display to win the National itself from a big weight. It was on par with the efforts he had produced in Grade 1 company earlier in his career.

That win secured Nicholls a first Grand National, and also secured him another trainers’ championship. A decision had already been made pre-race that Neptune Collonges would be retired whatever the outcome, and he duly bowed out on the highest possible note.

 

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