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Horse Racing - Racing: Nicholls remains the master tactician

The British National Hunt season ended at Sandown Park on Saturday afternoon and Paul Nicholls put an exclamation mark on his latest trainers' championship with a fabulous five-timer.

Despite not quite having the top-class talents of days gone by, Nicholls' ability to target the right races with his string is keeping him ahead of the posse.

There was also a major weekend shake-up on the Flat, with long-time antepost favourite Inspiral ruled out of next weekend's 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, which will be available on our Sports Live Streaming platform.

Nicholls shines at Sandown

Paul Nicholls celebrated a 13th British trainers' title win in fine style on Saturday with a Sandown five-timer.

Some 16 years on from his first title, Nicholls' stranglehold on the championship continues and he is now closing in on Martin Pipe's record of 15 titles.

Though he doesn't have the star quality of years past - emphasised by his failure to hit the target at last month's Cheltenham Festival - Nicholls has now mastered the art of cutting his cloth to measure.

The Ditcheat supremo targets his horses at the races he thinks they can win. He doesn't mind skipping the likes of Cheltenham if needs be - Nicholls goes nowhere to make up the numbers.

At Sandown on jumps finale afternoon Knappers Hill, Saint Calvados, Greaneteen, McFabulous and Samarrive all won, taking Nicholls to 143 winners for the season with just under £3million in prize-money.

The relentless winner suggests this year was quite tough at times, and he's already putting his thoughts towards the new season.

"It's been quite a tough year, with the horses a little bit in and out of form, but nearly 140 winners and all that prize-money is not bad and reflects well on the team at home," said Nicholls.

"We focus again now and get a good team (ready) for next year. If you win the Premier League in football you want to win it the year after and we'll do our best as always."

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Drive for five not impressing everyone

Staying with jumps racing, the Jockey Club has taken the first official step towards extending the Cheltenham Festival to five days with an in-depth consultation process under way as they seek the opinions and thoughts of those involved in racing.

Viewed as a near-certain commercial success, a fifth day at the Cotswolds extravaganza certainly isn't drawing universal support in terms of the effect it will have on the overall quality of the meeting.

AP McCoy last week suggested a fifth day at Cheltenham would be an "absolute disaster" for racing and now Willie Mullins has expressed his concerns too.

Mullins has been leading trainer at the festival for the last four years and nine times in all, while his tally of 88 winners is unmatched. Last month, he became the first trainer to record ten winners at one Cheltenham Festival.

He's got an insatiable appetite for winners and few trainers are better known for their ability to get horses into the right races at Cheltenham, but Mullins is very wary of a fifth day.

"It looks inevitable from an accountant's point of view, doesn't it? Whether it'll be good for jumps racing is the big question. I'm not sure it is," he told the Racing Post. "A lot of the races didn't fill up at the Festival this year and are we willing to dilute our premier product in England?

"As a trainer, if you are given more opportunities to win big races you have to embrace that but as a racing fan I'd question it."

It certainly appears at this early stage of the consultation process that plenty of the heavyweight names in National Hunt racing are going to pour cold water on the Jockey Club's notion of 'more is better'.

Inspiral out of Newmarket Classic

Perhaps the biggest news in the Flat-racing world this weekend came off the track when John Gosden confirmed that his unbeaten filly Inspiral - antepost favourite through the winter - won't be running in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on Sunday.

Gosden revealed the Cheveley Park Stud-owned winner of the bet365 Fillies Mile had "missed some days training at a critical stage of her preparation" and wasn't going to Newmarket for the fillies Classic, with the focus now switched instead towards getting ready for the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

Tenebrism, last year's Cheveley Park Stakes winner, is now 5/2 to give Aidan O'Brien his sixth win in the 1000 Guineas in the last seven years and his fourth on the trot.

The Irish challenge is now dominant in the 1000 Guineas, though Dermot Weld has revealed that Homeless Songs - the Moyglare Stud-owned filly who displayed an explosive turn of foot to land the Guineas Trial at Leopardstown earlier this month - is not certain to run, as the Master of Rosewell House suggested the "French Guineas is under strong consideration".

Peerless Punchestown set to rock

The jumps season has one more dance left. Ireland's premier spring festival gets under way on Tuesday with five days (many believe four would be plenty here too!) of action at Punchestown.

There are some mouthwatering clashes on day one. The Champion Novice Hurdle will see Mullins aces Sir Gerhard and Dysart Dynamo locking horns and an hour later the Closutton maestro is at it again when Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi go head-to-head in the Champion Chase.

Meanwhile, the declarations are in for the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday and it's a high-class nine-runner field.

Two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo is one of four Mullins runners, joining Kemboy, Tornado Flyer and Allaho, while Minella Indo will look to go one better than last month for Henry De Bromhead and is joined by Gold Cup fourth Galvin four Gordon Elliott.

Joseph O'Brien's Fakir D'oudairies joins Allaho going up in trip, while that man Nicholls has the lone British-trained representative as Clan Des Obeaux bids to repeat last year's win and export the €165,000 top prize.

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