Stop the press: Paul Nicholls didn’t win either of the big races at Wincanton last weekend. For many, these pandemic-affected times are unusual, but surely normality will be resumed on the jumps racing front this coming weekend, at the Open meeting at Cheltenham.
As already stated here, he has a good chance of winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup on the Saturday, though hopefully Saint Sonnet gets touched off by Mister Fisher for followers of this column.
For my mind, it is in Sunday’s big race, the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at 3.00, that he has the better chance of a big race weekend winner – in the shape of recent Chepstow winner Thyme White, who at 8/1 generally represents a great each-way bet.
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Nicholls’ last two winners of this race in 2015 and 2011 were both four-year-olds – Old Guard and Brampour. Both came into the race having won their first start of their four-year-old season in a handicap, and having been beaten at the Cheltenham Festival the season before.
All comments which apply absolutely to the letter to his leading candidate for this year’s Greatwood Hurdle, Thyme White. While Old Guard and Brampour were beaten in the previous March’s Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival, Thyme White finished midfield in the Fred Winter last season. He was a not unfancied 12/1 shot for that race mind, and it is a classic method that Nicholls uses with his young horses – to give them experience of the hustle and bustle of the big races before bringing them back next season as improved, stronger and more experienced models.
The manner in which Thyme White took apart the four-year-old handicap hurdle at Chepstow’s big October meeting suggested that he is benefitting from the same training prowess. He simply sauntered all over his rivals that day, and closer inspection into the time of the race and the recent collateral form suggest that it was quite some performance.
Runner-up The Pink’n chased home Botox Has at Cheltenham next time in a better race, third home Goa Lil would have won his next start at Ludlow on his chase debut had he not come down at the last, the fourth and seventh that day Goobinator and Maskada won their next handicap starts in decent fashion, and the fifth Blacko could well win a decent race at Huntingdon on Tuesday.
Apart from stablemate and potential Stayers’ Hurdle candidate McFabulous winning the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle, Thyme White produced the fastest furlong per furlong time of the day.
All in all, it looks as if Thyme White is following a well-trodden path to Greatwood Hurdle glory. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he was partnered by leading stable conditional jockey Bryan Carver on the day, as when Old Guard and Brampour won it, Harry’s Cobden and Derham were on board claiming a handy 7lbs off.
At 8/1 each-way generally now, he will surely shorten as confirmations close at midday on Monday, and he is well worth investing in. Elsewhere, Alan King has a good record in the race, and his seasonal debutant Edwardstone is of some interest, for all that King’s recent winners of this race have come into off the back of a prep run. That would be a slight worry for Edwardstone, as he can be a keen -going sort. While Olly Murphy has a great record in valuable 2m handicap hurdles, and his Strong Glance would be a big price to run well at a track where he won a bumper for his previous yard, but he might have other options at this stage.