Nicky Henderson is in an optimistic mood ahead of The Festival, with Sprinter Sacre in the best form since taking the Grade One Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013.
Sprinter Sacre goes for the same race this year, the £350,000 feature of the Ladies Day, Wednesday 16th March and the trainer is hoping to saddle up to five runners in the opening day highlight, the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle (£400,000) on Tuesday 15th March, plus Polly Peachum in the Grade One OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (£100,000).
Josses Hill and Captain Conan are his likely challengers for the Grade One Ryanair Chase (£300,000), while Bobs Worth and Whisper, plus maybe Different Gravey if supplemented, are being aimed at the Grade One Ryanair World Hurdle (£300,000), the two main races on St Patrick’s Thursday 17th March.
Henderson will have a large team for The Festival, whose four days are the highlight of the Jump season, with representatives in most if not all of the novice races and handicaps.
He said: “Sprinter Sacre excites me. He is at his best of this season now. He is in great form and we are happy with him.
“He is well and feisty – tanking along the gallops – I like him at the moment. His gallop on Saturday was great. I am not sure I need to take him to Kempton next week for another one – I am in two minds.
“He looks great – Nico (de Boinville) felt he was so good at Cheltenham (Shloer Chase) first time out this season – we did have him very fit as it was the acid test. He was probably fresher and better at Cheltenham than he was at Kempton at Christmas.
“He would be a sharper horse now than at Cheltenham the first time and I think he would be a better horse than at Kempton. Also he likes Cheltenham better than Kempton.
“The gap has narrowed between Sprinter Sacre and the herd but they haven’t caught him yet. He is nicely aggressive at the moment – he wants to do it – his attitude is great.
“I would be hopeful with him at The Festival, which we are able to get to this year on his terms, without having to rush anything. It has been a good journey. The appreciation he got from the crowd at Cheltenham in November was great.
“I said to Nico first time out – don’t disappoint him – if he wants to take you, great. He went up the hill and suddenly took off, like he used to, and the race was dead in 10 strides. He got a bit tired in the end but that is where we can find a little more. Somebody, some day has got to get upsides Un De Sceaux and see what happens. I hope it will be us.”
The Lambourn trainer switched his attention to the opening day: “All five of mine in the Stan James Champion Hurdle can run and it is perfectly possible that all would go for the race, though that is not certain.
“Sign Of A Victory has to have very good ground – he is in good form but must have the right going. Where else do we go with him? He is too high in the handicap to run in the County Hurdle. The ground can change quite quickly at Cheltenham.
“Top Notch and Hargam look in good shape and have done lots of work. Top Notch was great at Kelso, the perfect preparation and everything is cool with him. I have also said that with him and Hargam if you have good ground, then Hargam might come out better, though with very soft ground it would be the other way around. Hargam had a gallop with My Tent Or Yours the other day at Kempton (12th February) and they will be going somewhere to work together this weekend.
“There are a lot of horses (at least a dozen) going to work at Kempton on the All-Weather a week today (29th February) like we always do.
“Peace And Co, who has had a cauterised palate operation, is over that and cantering away. He has only just had a run. It is not the ideal preparation but we can get him there. He definitely made a noise at Sandown, which we had not experienced before. Forget his first run of the season at Cheltenham – he ran like a headless chicken for a mile – and so Sandown was like his first run in a year. His back was sore – we have been trying to iron out a lot of things in one go. He can get there.
“We thought of running My Tent Or Yours in the Kingwell (Wincanton) but the ground would have been detrimental. We talked about the bounce factor but we have eliminated that by not running him beforehand!
“It is a hell of a shock coming into a race after any lay-off but two years without a run into the Stan James Champion Hurdle is massive – we are realists and we would buy three weeks if we could but we are going to have a go if all is well. We are having to condense things but he is tough and hardy. His gallop at Kempton was ideal and went very well. Can I retire if he wins the Champion Hurdle?
“Peace And Co and My Tent Or Yours are the best two horses of mine in the Champion Hurdle, while Hargam and Top Notch are both very good and not just there to make up numbers.
“Anything can happen in the next three weeks before The Festival. If any horse is not able to run at Cheltenham, then that is shattering for an owner who has dreamed of getting there.”
Henderson would be happy with one winner at The Festival but is hopeful of having more.
Nicky Henderson is the all-time leading trainer at The Festival with 53 successes.
He has won the Jump trainers’ championship three times – 1985/86, 1986/87 and 2012/2013.
Winner of The Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at The Festival: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2010, 2012.
Born in Lambeth, London, on 10th December 1950.
Background: The son of financier and amateur jockey John Henderson MBE, who founded Racecourse Holdings Trust, the forerunner for Jockey Club Racecourses, he was educated at Eton and the Royal Agricultural College.
He worked for stockbrokers Cazenove in London and Australia, where he gained experience riding work at Randwick, before devoting himself full-time to racing.
Henderson first made his name in Britain as an amateur rider, finishing runner-up three times in the non-professional championship. His main wins as a jockey came on Happy Warrior in the 1977 Fox Hunters Chase at Aintree and on Acquaint in Sandown’s Imperial Cup in the same year. Henderson recorded his 78th and final win on Rolls Rambler in the Horse & Hound Cup at Stratford in June, 1978.
He became assistant trainer to Fred Winter in 1974 and received his own training licence in July, 1978, taking over from Roger Charlton at Windsor House Stables in Lambourn, Berkshire. He moved to Seven Barrows, to the north of the village, in 1992, after swapping yards with Peter Walwyn.
One of Britain’s leading Jump trainers, Henderson has sent out over 2,500 winners and been at the top of his profession since 1985. His unprecedented tally at The Festival includes a joint record five Stan James Champion Hurdles, six JCB Triumph Hurdles, five Racing Post Arkle Chases, two Timico Cheltenham Gold Cups, three Betway Queen Mother Champion Chases, two Ryanair World Hurdles and two Ryanair Chases.
First winner as a trainer: Dukery at Uttoxeter, 14th October 1978.
Cheltenham Festival Wins (53)
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1986 River Ceiriog, 1992 Flown)
Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase (1991 Remittance Man, 1993 Travado, 2000 Tiutchev, 2012 Sprinter Sacre, 2013 Simonsig)
Ultima Handicap Chase (2000 Marlborough)
Stan James Champion Hurdle (1985, 1986 & 1987 See You Then, 2009 Punjabi, 2010 Binocular)
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (2013 Rajdhani Express)
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (2012 Simonsig)
RSA Chase (2005 Trabolgan, 2012 Bobs Worth)
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (1992 Remittance Man, 2012 Finian’s Rainbow, 2013 Sprinter Sacre)
Coral Cup (2010 Spirit River, 2014 Whisper)
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2012 Une Artiste)
Ryanair Chase (2006 Fondmort, 2012 Riverside Theatre)
Ryanair World Hurdle (1989 Rustle, 2000 Bacchanal)
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (1985 & 1986 The Tsarevich, 2005 Liberthine, 2006 Non So)
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase (1990 Master Bob, 2002 The Bushkeeper, 2005 Juveigneur)
JCB Triumph Hurdle (1985 First Bout, 1987 Alone Success, 1999 Katarino, 2009 Zaynar, 2010 Soldatino, 2015 Peace And Co)
Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (1993 Thumbs Up, 1997 Barna Boy)
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (2011 Bobs Worth)
Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (2011 Long Run, 2013 Bobs Worth)
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (2009 Andytown)
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (2006 Greenhope, 2012 Bellvano)
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (2015 Call The Cops)
Cathcart Chase (1990 Brown Windsor, 1994 Raymylette, 1999 & 2000 Stormyfairweather)