Paul Nicholls explained on Monday afternoon why Daryl Jacob will ride Bravemansgame for the first time in the £200,000 Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday, while the outstanding staying chaser’s regular rider, Harry Cobden, will instead be in action at Ascot.
The best horse in the champion trainer’s Ditcheat yard has been ridden by the stable’s No 1 jockey, Cobden, in each of his previous 18 races. They have combined to win three Grade One prizes together and also finished runner-up in a memorable renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Most in the sport would have assumed that the partnership would remain intact for one of the biggest races of the season, but three weeks after a narrow defeat in the Charlie Hall Chase, where a mistake at the final fence proved costly, the combination will go their separate ways.
Nicholls says Cobden will have six rides at Ascot, including likely odds-on favourite Pic D’Orhy in the £70,000 Grade Two 1965 Chase. The jockey has ridden the eight-year-old in his past 11 races. Like Bravemansgame, Pic D’Orhy is engaged in next month’s Ladbrokes King George VI Chase. The pair are quoted at 13/8 and 20/1, respectively, with Bravemansgame officially rated 10lb superior.
“Harry’s got to go to Ascot, he’s got six good rides there including Pic D’Orhy,” Nicholls said ona Zoom call with the media hosted by the Jockey Club. “It wasn’t an easy decision but it’s sometimes good to let someone else have the ride because if ever you need a reserve in the future you’ve got one.
“That’s the decision we’ve made and that’s what Bryan’s (Drew, owner) happy with so that’s where we’re going.
“We’ve always had Pic D’Orhy in mind going to Ascot, Johnny’s (De la Hay, owner) got 15 or 16 very nice horses in training with us and he needs looking after.
“Harry is very important to Pic D’Orhy, probably more so than the other way round with Bravemansgame. Sometimes when you’ve got big meetings on a Saturday you have to make tough decisions that are right for everybody.”
He also bristled at any notion that Cobden might find himself surplus to requirement if Bravemansgame and Jacob were to impress at Haydock, suggesting it was a “stupid question”.
“There’s no question about that, of course he would. Harry’s the stable jockey but he can’t be in two places on the same day,” he said. “Of course he’ll ride him again.”
Bravemansgame’s participation on Saturday will hinge on underfoot conditions. “Heavy” features in the present going description but a mostly dry week is forecast.
Jacob gets an opportunity add to the three Betfair Chase victories he secured aboard Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol De Mai.
— Paul Nicholls OBE (@PFNicholls) November 20, 2023
It represents a return to the fold at Ditcheat for the 40-year-old, with Jacob once stable jockey to the champion trainer, riding Cheltenham Festival winners aboard Zarkandar and Lac Fontana. He has ridden 179 winners for the yard but has had only one ride for Nicholls since te start of last season.
“Bryan (Drew) who owns Bravemansgame is quite keen for him to run and he has come out of the Charlie Hall very, very well. I think he will take a step forward for it.
“The Wetherby run will have done him a lot of good as he hadn’t been for a racecourse gallop or anything like that and I hadn’t really trained him hard as we knew there were bigger targets down the road.
“He has come on enormously for that run and Scott (Marshall) who rides him every day is delighted with him.
“He is older now and there is still a month to Kempton and with the Betfair Chase being a valuable race, he will go there if the ground is not too bad.”
Bravemansgame is one of six confirmations for the first Grade One of the UK season.
Nicky Henderson had spoken all summer of targeting Shishkin at the race, with the King George VI Chase his main aim in the first half of the season, although he now also has the 1965 Chase at Ascot as an alternative option.
Last year’s winner Protektorat has had the race as his big target and will attempt to join the likes of Kauto Star and Cue Card as a multiple Betfair Chase winner.
Grand National hero Corach Rambler has been left in by Lucinda Russell but he will need to take a huge step forward from his seasonal reappearance at Kelso. Royale Pagaille (Venetia Williams) and Minella Drama (Donald McCain) may also run.
The Betfair Chase – Betfair Odds: 6-4 Protektorat, Bravemansgame; 3-1 Shishkin; 7-1 Corach Rambler, Royale Pagaille; 40-1 Minella Drama