Before sending Silviniaco Conti off the 2/1 favourite for Ascot’s Betfair Chase on Saturday, a frustrated Paul Nicholls insisted his 10-year-old had to show him he was capable of still winning at Grade 1 level.
The Ditcheat handler had just watched Irving, another veteran of his stable, underwhelm in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. Nicholls was visibly disgruntled with the form of his elder statesmen.
Like Irving, Silviniaco Conti has given fans reason to question his class this season. The two-time King George VI winner had failed to triumph in any of his three runs before turning out at Ascot.
Among his line of form a disappointing showing at his favoured Boxing Day chase, where he was pulled up before the line. With an entry in the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree’s Grand National on the cards, it was time for the 10-year-old to step up.
Step up he duly did, with a 20-length success over a field that included Dynaste, Triolo D’Alene and Flemenstar.
Giving jockey Noel Fehily a stellar round of jumping, Silviniaco Conti hit the front with two fences to go before easing away from his rivals.
After watching the return to form, Nicholls insisted that Aintree’s April Grand National meeting will be the next destination, with the Cheltenham Festival skipped entirely.
Whether Conti takes on the Bowl at that meeting or the larger National fences remains to be seen, but the trainer indicated that his horse looks attractively handicapped now after the National weights were set in midweek.
Nicholls was also of the opinion that the 10-year-old should take on the famous race now, while his skills are intact, than a year further down the road to retirement. Similarly, Fehily is reportedly keen on riding the horse on April 9.
After storming to his victory, Ladbrokes made Silviniaco Conti the 16/1 second favourite for the Grand National, behind Many Clouds who sits at 12s.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.