The Ditcheat maestro will on Saturday week field the smart seven-year-old, who runs in the familiar colours of the McNeill family, in the second-most valuable handicap chase in Britain.
Nicholls won the former Hennessy first as a rider in 1986 and 1987 on Broadheath and Playschool before he saddled Strong Flow and the legendary Denman (twice) to victory as a trainer.
“It’s a good race and was for me as a jockey, while I’ve won it three times as a trainer as well,” Nicholls said after watching Threeunderthrufive gallop at Newbury on Tuesday morning, when a host of big-race contenders stretched their legs.
“We’ve come close a few times too and I think it’s a good race for second-season novices as well.”
Threeunderthrufive, 10-1 with the sponsors, fits that bill and warmed up over hurdles at Wetherby recently.
“He’s a second-season novice and had a nice prep race the other day – I’m very happy with him, and if it keeps on raining I’ll be even more happy.
“He’s an out-and-out stayer who, if he gets into a good rhythm, has a chance. I wouldn’t have expected anything more or less on his return [a well-beaten third behind Proschema in the bet365 Hurdle] when he blew up and then stayed on.
“We wanted to get a run into him to sharpen him up and he’s improved since then – he jumps fences better than hurdles.”
Nicholls’ great rival Nicky Henderson also exercised horses at Newbury on Tuesday and they included Chantry House, a 12-1 chance.
“We’ve always thought Chantry House was a horse who is better off in a small field, and the hurly burly of a race like this doesn’t always fill me with confidence,” Henderson said. “He won’t be an easy horse to ride in this sort of race, but we have no options and he’s in very good form, so we’ll have to see.
“He needed that gallop more than I thought he would do, but he’s got to run somewhere and so this is the plan.”
Evan Williams brought Annsam, a 25-1 shot who should not be dismissed readily.
“He’s a nice horse and I think the race could suit if I can get him right,” the trainer said. “He’s a much better horse with a couple of runs under his belt, so that’s why today was important. I wanted to see him quicken up the straight if he was to come back for the Coral Gold Cup.”
Joe Tizzard, whose father Colin won the race in 2016 with Native River and two years later with Sizing Tennessee, is also optimistic.
“We weren’t really here to get them fit as they’ve both had lovely prep runs,” he said. “It’s just a nice awayday for them. The journey up and the mile-and-three-quarters leg stretch does them the world of good. They don’t get bottomed like they might in a race. It’s a nice experience and I was chuffed to bits with them.”
He added: “There’s not much between them and I haven’t yet spoken to Brendan [Powell, stable jockey] about which one he’ll want to ride. They are very close in the betting, and I expect Brendan will leave it as late as he can.
“Fiddlerontheroof hasn’t won his big race yet but he ran well in this race last year. He’s 5lb higher, but he was beaten only half a length into second [by Cloudy Glen], and when Remastered fell four out he had to sidestep him, just as he was making ground. I think that cost him.
“I think there’s a big one in him, he just hasn’t had his day yet. This has long been his target and I was chuffed with the way he ran over hurdles at Kempton last week. I loved the way he galloped through the line, but I might stick some headgear on him, because as a two-mile Grade 1 winner over hurdles he can travel better than he has been doing. He’s tightened right up and I think he’s got a great each-way chance.
“Oscar Elite ran a blinder last season when third in the Ultima at Cheltenham and we’ve tweaked his wind since. He’s tightened right up too for his run over hurdles at Wetherby, and I think he’s well handicapped.
“He’s still a novice but he showed at Cheltenham he can handle a big-field handicap. He was just unlucky not to get his head in front. This morning’s rain was needed and it should be beautiful ground for them both.”
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