Champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, enjoyed a fine day at the office at the weekend, sending out four winners at Cheltenham’s showcase December fixture, amongst them the exciting young chaser Unioniste, who ran away with the ultra-competitive Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Cup Handicap Chase and looks a particularly attractive long-term prospect.
Despite stable conditional rider, Harry Derham, riding at just 9st 9lbs, Unioniste (15/2) was still carrying 6lbs more than his long handicap weight.
However, punters should surely have taken the hint that Nicholls would hardly have risked jeopardising a potentially lenient mark by running placed or close to the principals, if he didn’t think the ex-French gelding would give a very good account of himself against older and more experienced horses.
On only his third start since joining the Ditcheat handler in the summer after winning in good style at Auteuil in March, Unioniste was patiently ridden at the rear of the field before starting his move racing into the final mile of the two-mile-five-furlong contest run on heavy ground.
After taking up the running going well after the third last, the son of Dom Alco was joined by the favourite, Walkon, at the penultimate fence but pulled out extra in receipt of 17lbs and stayed on strongly all the way to the line to eventually record an impressive 11 length success.
There is little doubt that his previous rating of 143 is going to be but a distant memory once the handicapper sits down and fully assesses this performance.
Nicholls may have to look to graded company in the future and the top novice events such as the Grade 1 RSA Chase, (for which he has been introduced as a 20/1 shot), or the Jewson Novices Chase (12/1), at the Betfair Cheltenham Festival in March.
Returning to the present, make sure you get your slips in soon if you’re thinking of indulging in some festive King George Chase betting.