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Horse Racing: Has Nicholls got himself a new Jacket? WATCHING THE TRAINERS.

Byline: Kevin Morley with a sprinter to keep a close eye on

THINK recent Glorious Goodwood sprints, and two horses in particular spring to mind - both trained by David Nicholls. Zuhair won no fewer than five times at the fixture, while Flak Jacket was a three-time winner of the Stewards' Cup consolation race.

I know it's said that there's no such thing as a certainty in racing but for those three years between 2000 and 2002, to my eyes, Flak Jacket was just that.

There are not many contests in the Flat calendar where an early-closing handicap has a consolation race in which the original weights still apply - other than the Stewards' Cup, the Lincoln/Spring Mile and the Ayr Gold/Silver Cup are the only other two.

Nicholls, more than any other trainer, has taken advantage of these special conditions. Once the weights for the Stewards' Cup were announced (usually a month or so before the race), Flak Jacket would have a rating somewhere in the mid to low 60s, a mark he was more than capable of winning off.

Of course, he was never going to get into the Stewards' Cup itself, but that mark was guaranteed for the consolation race. It would be now that Flak Jacket would be sent to the races, running four, maybe five times before the Goodwood contest arrived.

Flak Jacket invariably clicked into top gear, and his BHB mark would rise to the mid 70s. However, because the Goodwood race closes early, Nicholls would then have Flak Jacket racing back off his old mark, which would make him just about the best handicapped horse in training.

Since the introduction of the consolation version of the Stewards' Cup in 1998, Nicholls has landed the 6f handicap six times out of eight, and has never finished outside the first three.

I've been scanning Nicholls' entries for those likely to miss the cut for the big prize this year, and trying to pick out who could be the next Flak Jacket. Both Funfair Wane and Danzig River (third in last year's renewal) look leniently treated on their best form, but both prefer soft ground, which is unlikely at Goodwood.

One entry who does bear a resemblance to the three-time winner is Fast Heart. Like Flak Jacket, he was purchased from Brian Meehan, and a gallant third at Newmarket's July meeting last week means he's already 2lb well in. Any decent efforts in the next two weeks could provide further evidence of how well handicapped he is, and hopefully he can go on to land the Stewards' Cup consolation race this year. And the year after that, and the one after that...
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2006
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