Paul Nicholls needs a massive final few weeks of the season if he is to have any hope of catching Nicky Henderson in the Trainer’s Championship, but in Saphir Du Rheu, he has a live contender in the most valuable race of the season, the Grand National.
Saphir Du Rheu has been, it is fair to say, a massive disappointment since arriving on these shores from France with a huge reputation following a Listed bumper placed effort on his debut. The scopey gelding has always possessed the physique for jumping fences, but after a solid season over hurdles, his novice chase season was cut short with a heavy fall in the Feltham Chase at Kempton (where it is worth pointing out he went off 11/8 to beat Coneygree!).
Two starts later, he showed his class when beaten into second in the World Hurdle (won by Cole Harden), before hosing up in a Grade One Novice Chase at Aintree. Last season opened with a win in a small race at Carlisle, but was disastrous from then on, with lacklustre efforts characterising his year. This time around his old jumping frailties resurfaced with an early unseat in the Hennessey at Newbury, but a pleasing effort over a trip too short at Cheltenham in January was followed up with an easy success at Kelso.
According to Paul Nicholls, that win gave the horse a real confidence, and he backed it up with by far his best effort over fences to date when he was beaten just six lengths in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It may well be that this horse just needed time to fill his oversized frame, but whatever the reason, he has now put three really pleasing efforts back to back for the first time in his career to date.
On official ratings he is six pounds well in following the Gold Cup run, and I think he is value for a higher rating than that. If one were to look at his Gold Cup performance in isolation, he jumped superbly, and travelled strongly, a run which makes him the class act in a National field that to my eye lacks the true graded performers of some recent runnings.
He is 20/1 based on his massively inconsistent profile over his career so far, but this horse finally looks ready to fulfil that potential. At that price, I am willing to take a chance on him maintaining his form for one more start this season, and if he takes to Aintree’s unique test, he can go very close at the business end.