Jumps trainer: Paul Nicholls (Click trainer’s name to view a full list of entries)
As easy place to start this feature in the shape of Paul Nicholls, who saddled seven winners in the space of two days on Boxing Day/Thursday, the highlight of which came courtesy of Clan des Obeaux in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Nicholls now has a comfortable advantage over Nicky Henderson as he attempts to win the trainers’ championship for an eleventh time, and he will be hoping to build on that in the coming days with the likes of Secret Investor.
A useful hurdler, Secret Investor matched that level of form at the first attempt over fences, when chasing home the more-experienced Bags Groove in the Rising Star Novices’ Chase at Wincanton, and it would be no surprise if there was more to come from him with that initial experience under his belt. Admittedly, it is unlikely to be easy for him if taking his chance in what looks potentially a very hot renewal of the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day – Black Op, Defi du Seuil and Lostintranslation feature amongst the possible opposition – but he cannot be totally discounted with the Nicholls yard seemingly able to do no wrong at present.
Also worth a mention is the promising chaser Give Me A Copper, who could make his handicap debut after 13 months off on the same card, as well as Golden Gift and Mister Timmytucks, both of whom could make their yard debuts in the concluding bumper at Exeter. Nicholls can boast a 39% strike rate in bumpers this season, and both Golden Gift (dam a sister to the top-class chaser First Lieutenant) and Mister Timmytucks (brother to the useful hurdler Master Tommytucker) have the breeding to suggest that they could have big futures.
Flat trainer: Stuart Williams
Stuart Williams might have saddled only two winners from his last eight runners, but his horses have generally been running well of late, and the yard’s good run of form could well pay dividends around the turn of the year, with plenty of interesting entries in the coming days.
Glenn Coco resumed winning ways on his most recent outing at Chelmsford (by half a length) last month, and he holds a pair of possible engagements for his follow-up bid, either at Lingfield on Monday or back at Chelmsford on Thursday. The four-year-old has a 2 lb rise in the weights to contend with, but he can boast a good strike rate on the all-weather, with three wins from six starts, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t give another good account.
Others to note include Swift Approval and Shamshon. The former is entered in the same Lingfield heat as Glenn Coco on Monday and is entitled to be thereabouts if stripping fitter for his recent return from three months off over C&D, while Shamshon is entered later on Thursday’s card at Chelmsford. He wasn’t seen to best effect at Wolverhampton last time and is the type to bounce back quickly, still only 7 lb higher than when winning his penultimate start at the same venue.
Under the radar: Sue Smith
As the graph below shows, Sue Smith is another trainer who is in good form at present, and while her more high-profile Christmas runners failed to trouble the judge – notably Wakanda in the Rowland Meryck Chase and Vintage Clouds in the Welsh Grand National – it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that Smith could begin the new year with a bang at Cheltenham.
At a time when most people will likely be returning from their nights out, the West Yorkshire trainer will be heading down in the horsebox with Midnight Shadow, who could come up against one, or both, of the Willie Mullins-trained juggernauts, Benie des Dieux and Laurina, in the Relkeel Hurdle. It looks a tough ask on form, but Midnight Shadow is a useful performer in his own right, as he showed when winning the Scottish Champion Hurdle on his final 2017/18 start at Ayr, and his latest handicap success at Aintree suggests he has improved again; he is now knocking on the door of the higher-prestige Graded races and should not be dismissed lightly.
Closer to home, Bobndave could be worth a second look in the concluding bumper at Haydock on Sunday. He showed the benefit of his debut when last seen at Hexham in June, keeping on well to be beaten less than 11 lengths in third, and that form has worked out reasonably well, with the runner-up having improved to go one better on her next start. Bobndave appeals as one who should have more to offer himself, especially when the emphasis is more on stamina (from the family of the smart staying chaser Bold Sir Brian), and he doesn’t have all that much to find on form in a race that looks likely to be staged in very testing conditions.