Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls is no stranger to training Sullivan Bloodstock horses. Think Silviniaco Conti and Zarkandar to name but two.
Jared Sullivan, the man behind Sullivan Bloodstock, has moved a dozen racehorses from Willie Mullins’ yard in Ireland to Ditcheat for the new jumps season.
It could be the game-changer needed by Nicholls to re-establish dominance in British National Hunt racing. Longtime rival Nicky Henderson defeated him for the champion trainer title last term but it was a curtailed campaign.
Not that anybody at Ditcheat will use the pandemic as an excuse. Henderon’s Seven Barrows stable has JP McManus horses aplenty out to plunder prize money, but Sullivan Bloodstock counteracts that.
True, the operation isn’t in the hundreds like McManus. It is about quality more than quantity for Jared Sullivan and linking up with Nicholls again adds an interesting subplot for when the jumps season proper begins.
The owner has sent some serious racehorses to Ditcheat too. Even more casual horse racing fans will recognise some of the dozen making the switch from the Emerald Isle to Dorset.
Here, we take a look at five Sullivan Bloodstock horses to follow in the 2020-21 National Hunt season and why.
Mullins has a superb record with mares, and Laurina looked to have the world at her feet over hurdles. Either side of wide-margin wins over in the UK, she landed the Group 1 Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse.
Going into a 2019 Champion Hurdle tilt, Laurina was unbeaten six races for Mullins. The drop back to 2m after winning so impressively over intermediate trips went against her, however.
A promising chase debut on reappearance last season wasn’t something Laurina could build on, however. Laurina bled and was pulled up on her next two outings, so switched back to the smaller obstacles.
The daughter of Spanish Moon didn’t fire when switched back to hurdles on her final start for Mullins. They say a change is as good as a rest, so it will be fascinating to see what Nicholls can get out of her.
Laurina could go back over fences with a good programme for mares or stay hurdling. One of the few things Mullins didn’t try with her was a staying trip.
Now aged seven, Laurina may appreciate further and her half-brother Dallas Des Pictons won over 3m. That could being something like the Grade 2 Wafrield Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot into consideration over the winter.
Ante post odds of 33/1 for either the Champion Hurdle or inaugural Mares’ Chase only appeal if she does make a comeback. How Laurina’s campaign pans out for Sullivan Bloodstock is something to keep an eye on.
One race Nicholls targets more than any other is the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. That is why he has won the Christmastime showpiece a record 11 times before. Real Steel ran a really eye-catching race in defeat on his final start for Willie Mullins.
That was when sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. While his stamina drained trying to get up the famous hill to the finish, Real Steel travelled well for much of the blue riband steeplechase. The way he shaped suggested 3m on a less demanding track could suit.
Since the news that Sullivan Bloodstock moved the seven-year-old Loup Breton gelding to Ditcheat, some bookmakers shortened Real Steel up for the King George. Ante post odds of 33/1 are still available in places, but he is half that price elsewhere.
Real Steel came into his own over fences last season. Two Grade 2 wins, including the scalp of King George third Footpad in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles, are evidence of that. He showed plenty of promise as a novice too, winning three times in 2018-19.
It is well worth trying Real Steel at 3m again. Nicholls has plenty of other King George ammunition, namely dual winner Clan Des Obeaux and Cyrname could have another crack but nothing so unexposed.
Staying chasers abound at Ditcheat with Topofthegame set to return after a year out, so keeping Real Steel apart from the others will be the biggest challenge for Nicholls. Some shrewd observers have already made speculative King George punts with this new recruit, though.
But for a ride that Mullins criticised, Stormy Ireland should have had a say in the Mares’ Hurdle finish at Cheltenham in March. That apart, it was a very productive campaign for the six-year-old Motivator mare.
Stormy Ireland won her previous three starts, mopping up a Listed race and two Grade 3s including the Limestone Lad Hurdle. She has some ability and there are mares’ only races she could win in the UK.
Mullins had Stormy Ireland out in November, but Nicholls could make her reappearance even earlier than that. There is a Listed event for mares on Charlie Hall Chase day at Wetherby at the end of October.
Towards the end of January, meanwhile, is the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose at Doncaster. Win either or both of those, and Stormy Ireland won’t be a standout 40/1 with Unibet for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Novice chasing is another route, but the programme isn’t quite as clear. Stormy Ireland could end up taking on the geldings as she did at Naas during her last victory for Mullins. There aren’t any Cheltenham Festival closes for her over fences yet.
Duc Des Genievres
The shock Arkle winner of 2019, Duc Des Genievres hasn’t really fired since. This grey gelding by Buck’s Boum shares a sire with dual Cheltenham Gold Cup scorer Al Boum Photo and new stable companion Dynamite Dollars.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest last season was a disappointment. Duc Des Genievres couldn’t even give Bun Doran a 3lb penalty in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over last Christmas. Bested by a handicapper is not something that would have gone down well with Sullivan Bloodstock.
To be fair, the winner went on to run the race of his life when third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Duc Des Genievres had so much more scope to improve than a horse rising nine at the time, though.
What Nicholls has on his hands here is the comeback trail. Aged seven, there is plenty of time to regain the winning thread but just what is optimum distance for Duc Des Geneivres?
That is the first part of the fact-finding mission. Connections may look at races like the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, Shloer Chase at Cheltenham or the 1965 Chase at Ascot if they want to try an intermediate trip again.
If Duc Des Genievres can win any of those Grade 2 events, then the Tingle Creek at Sandown or Ascot Chase later in the season become options. Sullivan Bloodstock may also be tempted by the Silviniaco Conti Chase after Christmas for obvious reasons.
Now moved to Ditcheat, Dolcita is the best novice hurdling mare from last season. She chased home erstwhile Mullins stable companion Concertista in the Grade 2 Dawn Run at the Festival.
The fact that she reversed form with Minella Melody and Colreevy at Cheltenham, who both had much bigger reputations, suggests further steps forward are likely. Dolcita has had just five races in her life and three in the British Isles.
She looks another serious option for returning in the Wetherby Mares’ Hurdle as a debut for Nicholls. It’s an ease in grade and, aged just five, there is tons of scope for improvement.
If able to fulfill her potential, then Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle odds of 50/1 with William Hill look huge. There needs to be plenty of further progress mind, but Nicholls could unlock that.
Dolcita shares a sire, Saint Des Saints, with big guns past and present like Djakadam and Burrows Saint. If living up to those lofty half-brothers and Cheltenham Festival runners-up Lord Du Mesnil and Saint Calvados, she will get further in time.
Sullivan Bloodstock have also sent some novice prospects to Nicholls. They could be anything, so keep an eye out for the predominantly red colours sent out from Ditcheat come the autumn.