Matt Chapman looks back at a terrific National Hunt season and praises the horses and trainers who have stood head and shoulders above in his latest column for Sun Racing

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THE doubters have been well and truly silenced – and Paul Nicholls knows it.

The National Hunt season draws to a close with a final flourish at Sandown today and it’s live of course on ITV.

Nicholls will be crowned champion trainer for an 11th time and this campaign he has banged in a 3,000th success, notched up £3million in prize-money and more than 120 winners since October 1. Wow!

It has been some season and a massive effort by team Ditcheat, highlighted by successes from top-rated chaser Cyrname, who was explosive in the Betfair Ascot Chase in February, slamming Waiting Patiently by 17 lengths with a slick, electric round of  jumping.

True story: At The McCoys, the Jockey Club Jumps Awards, in 2017 a leading trainer’s wife went up to Clifford Baker, a Nicholls lynchpin, and asked: “What’s it like to have been at the top and now you’re on the way down?”

Now that’s the kind of thing to get under the skin of both Nicholls and Baker. It is the sort of comment Nicholls will have in mind as he lifts the trainer’s trophy today.


You challenge a man like Nicholls, and he takes that challenge full on, with a flick of his Elvis-style hair — thank you very much!

Jumps racing must be thankful two men like Nicholls and former champion Nicky Henderson have fought out the 2018/19 title.

In most sports the more successful those at the top become, the less they speak. But no one could fault Nicholls or Henderson for their communication skills or the way they promote the sport we all love.

Nicholls can take a fair bit of ribbing but also can’t help reacting to it. That’s a man with passion, who believes in what he does. That’s my kind of trainer.

Reuters

We had our own little ‘spat’ this season over Frodon, who I insisted should go for the Ryanair rather than the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Nicholls was in two minds. While Frodon landed the former, I’m not too proud to admit that he might have gone close in the main event as well.

Nicholls has come in for criticism for being hard on his riders  — he won’t keep anyone long if he’s not happy with them.

But it is worth noting that. when reflecting on this campaign, he  said: “I’m very proud of the success of  Harry Cobden and Bryony Frost.

“Bryony has been brilliant on Frodon who has been a brilliant horse.”

Daughter Megan, a Sun Racing columnist, also got a shout out from her dad. Nicholls added: “Megan’s success on the Flat has been great.”

And he added: “Harry Derham’s maturity and input has been fantastic to see. In terms of our horses,  Cyrname’s win at Ascot is, on form, the jumps performance of the season in the UK.”

Richard Johnson, champion jockey for a fourth successive time, nigh-on 25 years since his banged in his first winner, has also been superb.

Johnson is the ultimate professional, and  he’s now just over 720 winners shy of Sir Anthony McCoy’s career total of 4,348.

Dickie could still break that incredible score.

On the track one or two horses have truly shone, none more so than the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle hero Paisley Park, who has been a sensation for Emma Lavelle.

He’s the dominant stayer, improved out of all recognition.

It might have come as a bit of a surprise, but Espoir D’Allen’s Champion Hurdle success was also something special, for all that Buveur D’Air came down and Apple’s Jade and Laurina failed to perfom.

Gavin Cromwell has a potential star on his hands.

We shall see Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo again at Punchestown, where he infamously ran through the rail last term. Paul Townend was superb on him at Cheltenham though and can consolidate their position as the best staying chase partners in the business.

Altior was workmanlike in the Champion Chase and I am sure I am not alone in itching for him to step up in distance next term.

So, enjoy a summer of top Flat racing  — but keep in  mind the 2019 King George VI Chase.

Altior, Cyrname, defending champ Clan des Obeaux, Aintree hero Kemboy and star novice Lostintranslation top the market. What a sport!

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