This has left the recent Ascot winner at the head of the market in a contest that will see a maximum of 14 runners line-up after the decimation was announced.
The Grade 3 £100,000 race was promising to reach somewhere near the excitement created annually when previously the Racing Post Chase with Captain Chris, Hadrian’s Approach, On His Own and Triolo D’Alene all vying for favouritism at one stage.
However, despite the sudden change in make-up it still promises to be a highly competitive renewal with Nicholls clearly sensing the opportunity to further extend his lead in the trainer’s championship with the Ditcheat handler set to saddle three runners.
Along with the jolly, Nicholls – who leads Nicky Henderson by over half a million pounds in the race to be champion trainer – says he is likely to send out consistent performer Grandioso (8/1) who finished five lengths adrift of Bury Parade in that race a month ago and five-time winner Jump City (10/1).
Nicholls, whose only victory in the race came back in 2008 with Gungadu, has already outlined his riding plans.
“Noel [Fehily] will ride Bury Parade, as he won on him at Ascot, and I expect Daryl [Jacob] will ride Grandioso. We’ll have to find someone who can do light for Jump City.”
The most successful trainer in the history of the race is Philip Hobbs who has won the contest four times and a fifth triumph for the in-form handler cannot be ruled out with Planet Of Sound (8/1) given a chance to follow-up his course and distance victory over a month ago.
The 12-year-old was two lengths ahead of Jump City that day and will have plenty of supporters having seemingly put behind him two disappointing efforts at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals before his season break.
That experience of the conditions make Richard Johnson’s partner an interesting contender given his saddler’s record and with so many of the tougher opposition no longer involved.
Nicky Henderson did have the highly-rated Hadrian’s Approach entered but now the Seven Barrows owner says his exciting son of High Chaparral will head straight to Prestbury Park leaving the stable with only one runner in the form of the Waley-Cohen’s Rajdhani Express (12/1).
The seven-year-old notched consecutive wins for the first time in his career at Cheltenham and Ascot at the end of last season but could only finish fifth on his return in the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase.
Henderson insists he will only get better for that first run of the term, however, and he did win on his last visit to the Surrey track when routing a field of eight by 34 lengths over half a mile shorter.
Finally, Ardkilly Witness (5/1) occupies second favouritism for Dr Richard Newland’s operation who have been quiet recently with only five runners sent from his Worcestershire base in the last fortnight.
His eight-year-old will arrive with some of the best form on offer though, having only finished outside of the frame once in his last eight starts including when winning in decisive fashion at Wincanton on Boxing Day.
Despite the change in complexion the race remains an extremely attractive betting proposition and one that will take plenty of solving.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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