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14 Feb 2011 | 19:15
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Nicholls aims for gold with ContiHeadlines
Silviniaco Conti

Paul Nicholls has seen two of his greatest stars follow on from the Denman Chase to Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup glory and Silviniaco Conti starts on his way to becoming the third at Newbury.

One of those to manage the celebrated double was the very horse whose name now adorns this Grade Two prize, and Denman is set to make his first public appearance since his retirement when he parades before the race.

The other, of course, was Kauto Star, and Silviniaco Conti has now assumed his position as top staying chaser in the champion trainer's yard after his victories in the Charlie Hall Chase and Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Put away since then, the likely hot favourite faces seven varied rivals over three miles.

Speaking in his Betfair blog, Nicholls said: "He is the odds-on favourite, but be aware that I have left a lot to work on. I am keen to get a run into him before Cheltenham to fine-tune him.

"I purposely gave him Christmas off to have a fresh horse at this stage. So fitness-wise, he is probably in a similar place to where he was before he won the Charlie Hall, namely that he is fit enough to do himself justice but he will improve enormously for the run.

"So while defeat here would be disappointing, it wouldn't be disastrous. Remember, Kauto Star only scrambled home in this race by a neck from L'Ami before winning at Cheltenham in 2007, and Denman unseated his rider at odds of 1-6 before going on to finish second in the 2010 Gold Cup.

"This is a stepping stone to the big one, don't forget that. And I see that Timeform don't have him that much clear of many of this field, even after his Betfair Chase defeat of the subsequent King George winner.

"But he is in great shape generally - in fact, I said to Lorraine Morris, who rides him out daily, that he looks stunning at the moment, physically the best I have seen him - and of course I hope and expect him to win, especially in Long Run's absence. I wouldn't swap him for any horse in the Gold Cup line-up."

Tom George unveils an unknown quantity in the ex-French Mail De Bievre, who has his first start since September 2011. He said: "I'm not saying he's fit enough to win with his head in his chest, but I do think he's fit enough to run a proper race. Paddy (Brennan) has done a lot of schooling and it has gone well."

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