Nicholls has Next Destination primed for Betfair Chase

Paul Nicholls is confident Next Destination is “ready for his life” as the champion trainer chases a seventh victory in the Betfair Chase on Saturday.

It is 15 years since the Ditcheat handler first claimed the Haydock showpiece with the brilliant Kauto Star, who is immortalised in bronze on Merseyside having also won the race in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

Nicholls also struck gold with Siviniaco Conti, who landed the Grade One prize in 2012 and regained his crown in 2014, and in Next Destination, he hopes he has found another major contender.

“He’s a high-class horse with good form,” Nicholls said on Thursday morning.

“He hasn’t got the speed of Kauto Star, who was a one-off, and I’d describe him as more of a Silviniaco Conti-type as he’s an out-and-out stayer who gallops forever.”

Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls says Next Destination will arrive at the race ‘very fresh’

A Grade One-winning hurdler for Willie Mullins in the spring of 2018, Next Destination was not seen on a racecourse again until October of last year when finishing second over hurdles at Wetherby.

The nine-year-old went on to win a Grade Two novice chase at Newbury on his fencing debut, and doubled his tally at Warwick, before finding only Galvin too strong in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.

Nicholls admits he would prefer conditions were more testing ahead of Next Destination’s seasonal reappearance, but has no worries about his fitness.

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Jockey Daryl Jacob says he and connections of Bristol De Mai are extremely confident as they prepare to defend their Betfair Chase crown at Haydock on Saturday

He added: “He’s done his last bit of work this morning, he’s in good shape and we’re looking forward to the race on Saturday.

“He ran very well in the National Hunt Chase. They went no gallop at all that day – it was a sprint from the back of the last and we could have done with there being more of an emphasis on stamina.

A Plus Tard looks the one to beat on form, as Minella Indo was at Down Royal, but they’re beatable at this time of year.

“One thing is for sure, with Saturday’s race being a Grade One, they always go a good gallop and over nearly three and a quarter miles, stamina is what you need – and he’s got an abundance of stamina.

“He’s won on good ground and soft ground. Being honest, if I was going into it thinking we had a massive chance I would have preferred the ground to be like it was last year really.

“We’ve tried to get him to this race very fresh and very fit and he’s ready for his life – he won’t need the run, I can assure you.”

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Trainer Kim Bailey says Imperial Aura faces a ‘big ask’ in the Betfair Chase, but insists he’s ‘bigger and stronger’ than last year

Nicholls is well aware of the task facing his charge, with triple Betfair Chase hero Bristol De Mai and Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard among his rivals.

But having already claimed the scalp of A Plus Tard’s Gold Cup-winning stablemate Minella Indo with the admirable Frodon at Down Royal three weeks ago, he is relishing the challenge.

“It’s a good race, as you’d expect,” said Nicholls.

“You’ve got A Plus Tard, who was second in the Gold Cup last season, but the Gold Cup winner got beat at Down Royal. It’s a long way from Cheltenham and a different track and a different time of year.

“A Plus Tard looks the one to beat on form, as Minella Indo was at Down Royal, but they’re beatable at this time of year.”