Paul Nicholls hasn't won a Cheltenham Gold Cup since 2009, but the Ditcheat handler has reason to be optimistic this season as Bravemansgame is among the leading British-based contenders.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
After winning the King George at Kempton, Bravemansgame is a serious contender for jumps racing's most sought after prize.
|What||Cheltenham Gold Cup|
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||3.30, Friday 17th March, 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Galopin Des Champs 5/4, A Plus Tard 6/1, Stattler 13/2, Noble Yeats 7/1, Bravemansgame 8/1, Conflated 8/1, Shishkin 10/1,|
There is one thing that certainly cannot be argued when it comes to the career of one PF Nicholls - he knows just what is needed to win the King George on Boxing Day.
Bravemansgame gave him a record-extending 13th success in the Christmas showpiece this year and it was a plan fulfilled.
A year previously, when Bravemansgame won the Grade 1 novice chase on the same card, Nicholls pinpointed the King George as a long-term target for a horse 'made for the race' and so it was when he won handsomely from Royale Pagaille, after closest pursuer L'homme Presse unseated rider at the final fence when seemingly losing the battle anyway.
The King George was run at a good pace and Bravemansgame had to contend with rival L'homme Presse jumping into his path at times on the around. It was a good learning curve for him and a definite step up from his season-opening win in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
While it cannot conclusively prove he'll stay the three-and-quarter-mile Gold Cup journey around Cheltenham, the manner in which he saw out his three-mile Kempton test off a solid pace was encouraging.
Bravemansgame has won six of his seven starts over fences heading into the Gold Cup. The wins have come at Newton Abbot, Haydock, Kempton, Newbury, Wetherby and, of course, Kempton again in that King George.
They are all 'flat' tracks, while his only setback came at Aintree (also flat) after he was a final-hour absentee from the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham last March when a deluge of rain led Nicholls to believe conditions had gone against him.
They went to Aintree three weeks later and the trainer conceded after a listless effort on Merseyside that Bravemansgame had probably gone 'over the top' having been ripe for his intended Cheltenham outing and forced to wait those three weeks.
His best hurdles form was on similar tracks, with his one previous encounter with Cheltenham bringing a bronze medal in the 2021 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle won impressively by Bob Olinger.
Nicholls is adamant that Bravemansgame will be at home back in the Cotswolds, as he reflected in January on the Christmas success of his leading staying chaser.
"We haven't been avoiding undulating tracks, it's just that all the races that were right for him were run on flat tracks," he said.
"I am not worried about it. He can go on any track.
"He used to take his races quite hard but I would say he has hardly lost a kilo after the King George and he looks great already."
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Regular pilot Harry Cobden admitted he was 'very, very confident' going to Kempton given how Bravemansgame had been schooling at home in the lead-up to the King George.
He has hailed his Grade 1 winner as 'one of the best horses I've ever ridden' since that win and truly believes his 8/1 chance has what it takes to be the Gold Cup kingpin this year.
Cobden suggests he finds it 'quite funny' how his detractors pick holes in Bravemansgame despite his achievements and, in regards to stamina, points to his very wide trip around Kempton on Boxing Day as being indicative that he will stay three-miles-and-two-furlongs as he covered plenty of extra ground that afternoon.
Native River in 2018 is the most recent British-trained Gold Cup winner, with Ireland going for five-in-a-row this year on what will be St Patrick's Day, 17th March.
Galopin Des Champs is the red-hot favourite for Willie Mullins at 5/4, while Noble Yeats is 7/1 for his nephew Emmet as he attempts to complete that rarest of doubles, having won the Grand National last season.
When Nicholls won his fourth Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2009, Kauto Star regaining the mantle from stablemate Denman to complete three-in-a-row for the trainer, it would have been unthinkable that 13 runnings of the Blue Riband would go by without Nicholls tasting success again.
There's no argument that his yard went through a downturn in the intervening years. By his own admission, Nicholls lacked top-level quality for a time. That just makes it more impressive that his latest crown as a champion trainer in Britain made it a dozen of those titles and his fifth since 2013/14.
There does seem to be a change in that regard in recent times and Nicholls is once more starting to look armed with Grade 1 ammunition. He'd dearly love Bravemansgame to underline that notion come 17th March at Cheltenham.
Of course, it won't be easy overcoming Mullins' hot favourite Galopin Des Champs, but there does seem to be way too big a discrepancy in price given the question marks surrounding both horses.
Like Bravemansgame, there is no guarantee that Galopin Des Champs will stay the further distance and given that the Gold Cup favourite fell at the last after a tired jump in last year's shorter 2m4f Turners Novices' chase, the question has to be posed over lightning striking twice.