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Cheltenham update: Supreme aim for Nicholls' latest success

The first Grade 1 of the calendar year took place in Britain on Saturday and it was a case of 'picking up where he left off' for champion trainer Paul Nicholls as he collected another major prize.

The Ditcheat supremo took the final Grade 1 of 2022 with Hermes Allen at Newbury a week earlier and Tahmuras proved much the best horse in the Tolworth at Sandown on Saturday, opening up the path for a potential Supreme Novices' Hurdle bid in March.

Love Envoi also stamped her ticket to The Festival with victory at Sandown for Harry Fry while Ireland's first Grade 1 of the year left as many questions as answers.

Here's our look at the weekend eyecatchers and their impacts on the Cheltenham Festival markets.

Supreme now the aim for 'serious horse' Tahmuras

It's fair to say that in recent times Paul Nicholls hasn't had the firepower of old when it comes to Cheltenham in March, but that might be starting to change.

King George winner Bravemansgame is 8/1 for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory after his festive success while the aforementioned Hermes Allen heads the betting at 3/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle following his Newbury romp in the Challow.

Following Saturday's Tolworth at Sandown, Britain's champion trainer has a proper contender for the curtain-raising Supreme Novices' Hurdle in the shape of 10/1 Tahmuras - that price might be much shorter were it not for the long shadow cast by 4/5 Facile Vega.

Half the Tolworth field arrived with unbeaten records over obstacles, but only Tahmuras was good enough to leave with one and given how well Harry Cobden's partner travelled, it was rarely in any doubt despite the winner idling a bit once he got to the front.

Nicholls and Cobden have now won three successive Grade 1 races in Britain since Boxing Day, giving rise to the idea the Ditcheat powerhouse is on the up once more.

The trainer was impressed with what he saw at Sandown and confirmed his star novices won't be having a crack at each other in the Cotswolds.

"We can sharpen his jumping and he's all but certain to run in the Supreme. It's the type of race, if the ground goes soft, that should suit him," said Nicholls.

"I could see he was going to win when they turned in, but then he did nothing in front. He's green but he's talented.

"He'll be entered in the Supreme and Ballymore, but I wouldn't be keen for him to take on Hermes Allen. It would be pointless for them to take each other on."

'Thriving' Love Envoi on way to Mares' Hurdle

Harry Fry was another trainer beaming at Sandown on Saturday afternoon after watching Love Envoi trounce her rivals in the 2m4f Listed Mares' Hurdle.

The 140-rated Martello Sky had no answer as Johnny Burke's mount defied racing a bit keenly to cruise home and make it seven wins in eight starts over timber.

She won the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle in the Cotswolds last season and Love Envoi is now 9/2 to make the graduation to bag the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on 14th March where she may face the likes of Marie's Rock and Brandy Love - the only horse to get the better of her so far over timber.

She will not, however, be facing Honeysuckle in the two-and-half-mile Mares' event after her connections suggested on Sunday it will be 'the Champion Hurdle or retirement' for their superstar come March.

Fry confirmed he plans for one more run between now and March for a mare that clearly thrives on her racing.

"She thrives on her racing and these horses are there to race. She went to Cheltenham on the back of four wins and there's a long time between now and March, so all being well we'll go to Warwick on 11th February for a Listed mares' race," he said.

"That'll be just over four weeks until The Festival. That's the plan, we'll use that as our stepping stone."

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Champ triumphs at Naas

Willie Mullins won Ireland's first Grade 1 of the year, though perhaps not as anticipated. Grangeclare West was favourite for the Lawlor's of Naas Novices' Hurdle under Paul Townend, but failed to sparkle as Danny Mullins made all on Champ Kiely.

In doing so he reversed Royal Bond form with the Gordon Elliott-trained Irish Point, who loomed large to have a go at the pacesetter in the home straight but couldn't peg him back.

Low sun ensured they had to jump only seven instead of 11 hurdles with the two in the home straight omitted on both occasions, thus changing the complexion of the race.

Townend felt Grangeclare West "was beaten at the last hurdle we jumped, which is usually the third-last. My horse didn't run his race but it rode like a decent race" and he's now 16/1 for the Ballymore.

Champ Kiely, meanwhile, is 11/2 behind Hermes Allen for the Festival's intermediate distance novice Grade 1.

Mullins was not at Naas on Sunday, but his assistant David Casey was pleased with the effort and felt Champ Kiely might have done even better if there was more jumping done.

"I'd say the step up in trip was a help…and soft ground. It all fell right and Danny said he was very happy with him, and he gave him a great ride," said Casey.

"He was tough and I think he would have been better with the two hurdles kept in up the straight. He could go either two miles or two and a half (in March)."

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