Sweet Nicholls on Greaneteen’s Tingle Creek claims

Nicholls’ record in the race reads like a who’s who of the great two-mile chasers of the modern era, winning the race with the likes of Flagship Uberalles as well as a host of dual winners in Twist Magic, Kauto Star, Master Minded and Politologue .

While it might push him to suggest that Greaneteen has achieved as much as those former Ditcheat stars so far, if he were to add a fourth Grade 1 to his CV at Sandown, he won’t be far off.

Having won the Haldon Gold Cup by 168 on his comeback, a race he was beaten in last season before going on to Tingle Creek glory, Nicholls is optimistic ahead of the weekend.

“He came out of Exeter well, we’re very happy with him. He’s going to school tomorrow morning, he’s going to work on Thursday morning which is his normal schedule, he’s looking great so we couldn’t be happier with him,” Nicholls said.

“His performance at Exeter was obviously a lot better than last year but he wasn’t as ready last year, this year he’s had no problems leading up to it.

“He’s definitely stepped up this year. In fact I think he improved in the spring, his best run was in the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April. He has definitely stepped up in his work at home and physically this year.

“He’s eight years old now, he still has room for improvement, we’re very happy with him.”

Despite the likely presence of Willie Mullins’ Gentleman De Mee and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Captain Guinness, betting suggests the biggest threats are closer to home in Alan King’s winner Edwardstone and Nicky Henderson’s captive Shishkin, who last seen stopping in the Champion Chase.

“I think Shishkin has to come to beat us (not the other way around),” Nicholls said.

“At the moment we’d have to say we’ve got a home game because he loves Sandown, while poor old Shishkin had a lot of problems in the spring so he’s got to get back to form.

“He beat us at Kempton last year on very soft ground but we had a tough race not long before (Tingle Creek) and I wish I hadn’t run him that day. It certainly wasn’t Greaneteen at his best, he seems to be saving what he can for Sandown.

“Right now, I think we’re the ones to beat. They are obviously smart horses, Alan’s horse (Edwardstone) went on to win last year and Shishkin is very smart on his day so it will be an interesting race.”

Greaneteen seem to reserve everything they can for Sandown, but Nicholls never found out why.

He said: “Sandown is the perfect track for him, I don’t know why. He can run or take the lead and he stays strong on that hill.”

The ground has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with Henderson and King already warning their stars would be unlikely to run if they felt the conditions were too fast, but that doesn’t concern the champion trainer.

“My horses love good ground, he’s won on all kinds of ground but it looks like a dry week and that will suit him,” he said.

“I don’t mind if it’s a small field as he raced in the Haldon Gold Cup.

“Let’s be real here, there will be no firm in the ground. Ascot was pretty fast the other day but it was safe. Sandown was abandoned three weeks ago because it was full of water. It’s almost December now, you don’t have long drying days.

“If I put a little water on the right side of the back to keep a little bit faster well, I would say that the ground will be easier and I see no excuses for anyone. It certainly won’t be good to farm, that’s for sure.

“You can’t water to change the soil to suit certain parts, you can only water to make the soil safe. I spoke to Andrew (Cooper, the course director) on Sunday night and he said he’s going to put some water on the back right where he’s rushing a bit, not to change the pitch but leave it as it is. – good, good to soft in places.

“It’s hard work being a course director at this time of year, but you have to be a little careful about what you’re doing.”

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