Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It'll Be Hats off to Nicholls; Royal Can Land Cup and End Pipe reignTop Jump Trainers Go Head to Head for the Title

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

It'll Be Hats off to Nicholls; Royal Can Land Cup and End Pipe reignTop Jump Trainers Go Head to Head for the Title

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

ONE man in a trilby with a West Country accent will be elated at Sandown tomorrow, while another will be forced to rue what might have been.

But will a packed crowd be saluting Martin Pipe or Paul Nicholls as an absorbing battle for the trainers' championship reaches its thrilling climax?

Betting against Pipe in this annual numbers game has been a rapid route to the poor house down the years. The Wellington Wizard has captured the title 14 times in all, but it could finally be hats off to Nicholls tomorrow thanks to Royal Auclair and Azertyuiop.

Royal Auclair lines up with Inca Trail and Whitenzo as part of a three-pronged Nicholls attack on the Betfred Gold Cup. He faces no easy task under topweight, and critics will point out that he races from a mark fully 16lb higher than when touched off by the Pipe-trained Puntal in this race last year.

Against that, Royal Auclair is plainly a much better horse now than he was 12 months ago. Aided by a breathing operation, he started this season with an impressive Wincanton win and followed up with an excellent third in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.

Holding ground found him out more than once during the winter, but Royal Auclair came right back to form when fourth in Kicking King's Gold Cup and turned in another heroic effort when beating all bar Hedgehunter in the Grand National two weeks ago.

Admittedly, Royal Auclair was left trailing once the impressive winner sprinted clear at Aintree, but he battled on willingly under the excellent Christian Williams and is clearly holding his form extremely well.

Of course, it's impossible to say whether that hard race will have set him back.

However, Royal Auclair does have conditions to suit him in a race which lacks the strength in depth you normally expect of a [pounds sterling]150,000 handicap.

Take the extensive Pipe contingent, for example.

Comply Or Die has a fine chance based on his best form but folded tamely when lumbered with my money in the Scottish National last week. …

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