Paul Nicholls, left, chats with jockey Ruby Walsh (file photo). ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Cheltenham 2012

My big stars are fine: Nicholls plays down stable illness

Trainer Paul Nicholls says that a recent outbreak of coughing is “nothing serious” as he continues his pre-Cheltenham preparations.

PAUL NICHOLLS MOVED last night to reassure punters that his top Cheltenham stars have not been affected by a health scare at his Ditcheat stables.

The champion trainer gave Big Buck’s, Kauto Star, Al Ferof and Join Together a clean bill of health yesterday after a number of his horses were found to have dirty noses and coughs following runs at the weekend.

The news raised legitimate concerns about whether Nicholls’s horses will be able to run to form at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, which begins three weeks from today. Nicholls himself pointed to the fitness problems yesterday in an attempt to explain the stable’s unusual dip in form, which has seen him saddle just one winner from 31 runners.

Although he cancelled a pre-Festival media day scheduled for this week, the trainer played down fears and said that the problem was “nothing serious.”

“Coughs come and go at yards and there is always the odd horse with one but, in the past few days, we have started noticing more,” Nicholls wrote in his blog for Betfair.

The horses who have come back with dirty noses and coughs will get antibiotics. Depending on the horse it can be three to five days before they are back in full training. It’s much like when we get a head cold – the whole thing goes as quickly as it comes. Sometimes you might hear a cough a day or two before they go to the races but they still work well. Until they’ve had gone through the full stress of a race it really doesn’t come to the fore.

The illness has not affected Nicholls’s four major contenders, who he said are “are all in good form.”

Big Buck’s is heavily fancied to win a record-breaking fourth World Hurdle at this year’s Festival, while dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star has found plenty of friends among punters in search of a legitimate challenger to last year’s champion, Long Run.

Al Ferof, winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year, is currently 5/1 third-favourite for the Arkle Chase.  Join Together, who has won two novice chases this season, is expected to go in the RSA Chase.

Worried Nicholls cancels Cheltenham media day