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Paul Nicholls has Saphir Du Rheu sparkling for Newbury Hennessy bid

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Paul Nicholls believes Hennessy Gold Cup favourite Saphir Du Rheu can defy the burden of top weight at Newbury on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls believes Hennessy Gold Cup favourite Saphir Du Rheu can defy the burden of top weight at Newbury on Saturday.

After a couple of early mishaps in his novice season over fences, the grey went back hurdling and it clearly did his confidence the power of good as he finished second in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Saphir Du Rheu easily won an Aintree Grade One on his return to chasing a month later, and also enjoyed an impressive return to action at Carlisle on November 1.

The six-year-old was challenging Coneygree for Hennessy favouritism before trainer Mark Bradstock was forced to withdraw the Gold Cup winner, with Nicholls' inmate now the outright market leader.

Nicholls said: "He schooled over a dozen fences with Sam Twiston-Davies on Thursday morning and he worked Wednesday with his half-brother, Ibis Du Rheu.

"He looks fantastic and we are very happy with him.

"He has got a lot to do off the weight, but he is a big, strong horse and well capable of winning off top weight.

"If he is going to be smart over fences he will have to run well off that weight.

"On his World Hurdle form, he deserves to carry that weight and there are not too many in that field that will have been placed in a World Hurdle.

"He is a second-season novice and he will have to jump at his very best."

Owner Andy Stewart feels the spell back over timber revitalised his charge.

"What made Saphir Du Rheu was running in the World Hurdle," said Stewart.

"He couldn't beat Cole Harden (World Hurdle winner) and is no Big Buck's, but he went there after fluffing his lines over fences a couple of times.

"Paul says he's the only one (Gold Cup contender) he's got in his yard, as Silviniaco Conti won't go for that.

"Paul always said he was a chaser, not a hurdler. We're back to chasing and win, lose or draw, that's what we will continue to do.

"He's got an entry in the King George, but I just think Kempton, going right-handed, is not his ideal track.

"The Hennessy has not been my lucky race. Big Buck's was favourite and unseated rider, Rocky Creek was near to favourite and came third and Aiteen Thirtythree, whom I owned with Paul Barber, was unplaced.

"I hope it can be lucky for me at three o'clock on Saturday."