Big Aintree team for Nicholls

Sanctuare set for mouthwatering Sprinter Sacre clash

Last Updated: 02/04/12 4:59pm

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Big Buck's, Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar form part of a strong Paul Nicholls team heading to Aintree for their showcase meeting next week.

The champion trainer is facing a real battle with Nicky Henderson to hold onto his crown but has a strong squad heading to the Liverpool track next week - a meeting which will prove crucial in the title race.

Writing in his exclusive column at the trainer said: "Big Buck's spearheads my Aintree team in the three miler and I must say he looks amazing at the moment. He could be joined by Poungach and Celestial Halo.

"The current plan is to run both our Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar in the Aintree Hurdle.

"Betting never concerns me but I am told that Rock On Ruby is 9-4 favourite with some bookmakers for this race but available at over 6.0 on Betfair. It will be an incredibly hot race for sure - with the likes of Oscar Whisky, Thousand Stars, Oscars Well and Overturn likely to be in opposition from other stables - but perhaps Betfair punters are reading too much into his Aintree disappointment last season. Yes, his Aintree run last season is a possible cause for concern but, against that, he is a bigger and stronger horse this year and clearly much improved.

"As everyone saw at Cheltenham, Zarkandar probably needs 2m4f now and he looks in good form too. He is no second string."

Nicholls also expects to be strrongly represented in the novice hurdles and novice chases at the showpiece event.

"Elsewhere, we have Prospect Wells for the 2m novice, and Pearl Swan and Dodging Bullets for the juvenile. Pearl Swan could go for the 2m4f race, though; I haven't decided," he added.

"Al Ferof and Cristal Bonus, who came back with an abscess on his whither after Cheltenham, are possibles for the 2m4f novice chase, but the latter would need the ground on the easy side to run. Silviniaco Conti, who bypassed Cheltenham, goes for the three miler.

"Sanctuaire could take on Sprinter Sacre in the two miler - it would be some sight to see those two tearing off in front - but we could bypass Aintree and go straight to the Celebration at Sandown with him, in which case Toubab would take his place in the race.

"Elsewhere, we have Poquelin and Kauto Stone in the Melling Chase - both are fresh horses for different reasons after Cheltenham - and Tidal Bay and What A Friend for the Betfred Bowl, a race the latter won in 2010.

"Throw in the likes Ted Spread, and Mon Parrain in the Topham and Gwanako in the Foxhunters', and I think it is fair to say that we aren't waving the white flag and conceding the title to Nicky just yet!"

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