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Paul Nicholls believes Dan Skelton will be a "big threat" to his bid for a 13th National Hunt trainers' championship.
The Ditcheat handler's horses returned to work from their summer break this week, including 2020 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase winner Frodon and MansionBet Challow Novices' Hurdle hero Bravemansgame.
The team will gradually build up towards the new season, which for Nicholls traditionally begins at Chepstow in October.
"It's a busy time of the year for us in Ditcheat, we are up to 120 horses come back in training now ready for the new season, lots of new ones, lots of new staff so it's like the first day of the new term at school," he said.
"There's a lot to look forward to this year with lots of lovely horses.
"We focus this time of year on getting a good team ready for Chepstow where we always start, we have a few summer ones to run.
Paul Nicholls with Frodon, pictured on March 2, 2021
"We have actually had 20 winners this summer which we have never had before October I don't think, so we have got a good, solid base. If we could have 25 winners by the 8th October when Chepstow starts that would be a good start for us. At that meeting last year we had eight winners and then progressed from there, so it's a matter of planning the season."
Nicholls won his first trainers' title in 2006 and joined champion jockey Harry Skelton on the podium last season.
They joined forces for Politologue's Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase success – but Nicholls believes the rider's brother Dan, his former assistant, also has the ammunition for a strong championship challenge.
The gallops at Ditcheat
"I would love to win the trainers' championship again, of course I would," Nicholls said.
"That's not going to be easy, I think Dan Skelton is going to be a big threat this season. He has obviously laid back from the summer and is going to have lots of runners. I'm told he is going to have 170-odd horses and a lot more winter horses so he's going to be an interesting challenge.
"At the end of the day it's about getting these lovely young horses ready for their big targets in the autumn and onwards."
Nicholls has two runners for Old Gold Racing at Market Rasen this afternoon – Saint de Reve in the Betway Novices' Limited Handicap Chase and Darling Maltaix in the Grade 3 Betway Summer Plate Handicap Chase.
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The Skeltons run Solomon Grey in the afternoon's feature contest, worth £22,780 to the winner.
"The Plate has been Darling Maltaix's target for a long time," Nicholls said.
"He's a good horse for the summer when the sun's shining, he had a prep race at Newton Abbot a month ago which he won. This is a much more competitive race but his prep couldn't have been better, I'm very happy with him.
"Saint de Reve has his first run for Old Gold Racing. He has had good form over fences so far, he definitely has a chance."