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Saturday racing preview:Is Paul Nicholls on course for a Welsh Grand National and Lexus Chase double?

An eighth King George VI Chase in the bag. Is Paul Nicholls the man to bank on this weekend in the feature races?

by Sean Goff | December 27, 2013

If it’s a slog in a bog you want – then roll up for the Welsh Grand National on Saturday (2.35pm).

Paul Nicholls evergreen Tidal Bay heads the weights and this time last year had forgotten that he’d just run three miles around Leopardstown and sprinted faster than Usain Bolt to land the Lexus Chase. Can he do it again in Wales?

Of course there may be an ulterior motive for Tiday Bay’s engagement at Chepstow’s rolling, if rather soggy hills. His presence also leaves stablemate Hawkes Point in at the foot of the handicap. He warmed up for this when fourth over 3m in a handicap chase earlier this month and previously won a maiden hurdle over 3m on heavy ground last season. Coincidence?

If Nicholls – who won this in 2004 & 2005 – could land this two days after Silviniaco Conti won the King George VI Chase his title challenge might just start to be taken as seriously as Arsenal’s – without the inevitable mid-season collapse.

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Ruby Walsh has swapped life in the fast lane of the M4 for life in the overtaking lane of the M50 this season. Willie Mullins’ stable jock was more or less bang on with his King George VI preview – if you ignore Cue Card’s petrol gauge going from full to flashing red light in about 10 strides before the last at Kempton.

Lexus Chase, 2.55pm, Leopardstown, December 28

Walsh rides Rubi Ball in the Lexus Chase and apart from being tipped in Matt Chapman’s Festive Lucky 31 – has Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth and runner-up Sir Des Champs to overcome.

But Ruby’s not phased and told the Paddy Power Blog:

Bobs Worth was disappointing at Haydock. He looked lethargic and will have to improve drastically to win.Sir Des Champs took a very heavy fall at the third fence on his seasonal bow at Punchestown. He’ll arrive at the Lexus needing to restore his confidence on what is basically his first run of the season. Aintree winner First Lieutenant has yet to reach the standard he set last season.

Jum Culloty’s Lord Windemere won the RSA Chase at the festival last March and was hampered when finishing eighth in the Hennessy at Newbury

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Paul Nicholls has won the Irish feature three times in the last six years and sends Unioniste over. The improving five-year-old stayed on strongly to win at Aintree on his last start – and Ruby thinks he could run a big race.

He does have a bit of ground to make up on Lord Windermere on last season’s RSA chase form. Jim Culloty’s charge ran okay in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury earlier this month and should improve from it. If I was to select one of these to upstage the big names it would be Unioniste who is a stronger stayer in my eyes.

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