The Cheltenham Festival is now just fourteen days away and legendary trainer Nicky Henderson will be hoping to continue his domination at the World’s most prestigious race meeting. He heads to jumping HQ with more Festival winners to his name than any other current trainer and his team for 2010 looks as strong as ever.
With the likes of Punjabi and Zaynar set to battle it out in the Champion Hurdle and with RSA Chase market leaders Punchestowns and Long Run both hailing from the Henderson yard, he looks to hold all the aces in the biggest races.
Ladbrokes believe that Henderson looks likely to land this year’s RSA Chase and have Punchestowns (3/1) and Long Run (4/1) as their two market principals. Sign up with Ladbrokes now and get a free £25 bet on this year’s Festival by entering the bonus code MAXIMUMBONUS when registering.
Nicky Henderson talks about his leading contenders for this year's Cheltenham Festival:
“I was thrilled to bits with him at Kempton on Saturday. It was exactly what we wanted, he was professional and he was quick. Barry (Geraghty) said 'I pressed the button and the turbo-charge kicked in'. I thought it was very good.
“I know the opposition wasn't very good - and I hate belittling other people's horses but he did what he had to do. To go to Cheltenham with a win under our belts is all we wanted and I have to thank everyone for putting the race on.
“I go into this year's race with much more confidence with Punjabi than I did last season. Then we were going in behind a defeat in the Kingwell, albeit we knew he'd blown up there. He'd been forgotten about and is still a horse who doesn't appeal to everyone although he is the reigning champion. He's sitting on the throne, wearing the crown and he wants to keep it. It's up to the others to try and take it.”
“We wanted to a get a run into him before Cheltenham so took him to Kelso. The meeting was very nearly off, it was very frosty and when that comes out of the ground it makes the going tacky and horrible. It's not that he's a little horse but he has rather little feet and is a Daylami and he just sank in that ground. There was this great, big tank of a horse ploughing a furrow through the ground up front and poor Zaynar was sinking in it.
“I would have thought the cheekpieces will go back on for the Champion although that had nothing to do with what went wrong at Kelso. If Barry chooses Punjabi, Tony McCoy will ride Zaynar. He's probably already ridden him at home and he might jump five hurdles on him before the Champion but doesn't need to.
“He's in the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair and I've been mulling things over this weekend. It could just be the Ryanair will be the easier race although I've Barbers Shop for that and nothing else for the Champion Chase. We've got to get Petit Robin into the race he has the best chance of winning though and it just occurs that could be the Ryanair. I didn't get to speak to owner John Poynton on Sunday and will discuss it with him. It's a possibility he'll go over the longer trip, we'll see.”
“I'm really pleased with him and the Ryanair Chase has been the plan since the King George. I'm not at all worried about not running him between Boxing Day and Cheltenham, we'll just do our work at home. He looks great and I think he's feeling great and when he's like that he's very good. He's a horse who really tells you where he's at and and at the moment he's right where I want him.
Sentry Duty: There is obviously a question mark over whether he'll stay in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle but won the Cleeve Hurdle very well over two miles five at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. I would never have had any desire to find out if he stays before the Festival as he's a horse who has to be incredibly fresh. When he is, he's very good and needs to have big gaps between his races. If there was a Grade One two mile five hurdle at Cheltenham he'd go there but there isn't so we're going to give it a try.
“Big Buck's beat Punchestowns last year but nothing is unbeatable and there are no certainties at Cheltenham, that's for sure.”
“I would possibly have liked three runs before the RSA Chase but the weather this winter has been awful and that wasn't possible. He's been very good two times, I was going to to Cheltenham on New Year's Day but just didn't dare on the ground, and consequently he had to go to Sandown where he made one mistake. That's his only one in two rounds of fences and nobody is going to get round in the RSA Chase without making a mistake. I'd prefer it to be done but fear it won't be!
“I thought Barry was seriously good on him after the mistake at Sandown, AP just set sail as soon as it happened and quite rightly went and galloped off down the back straight without us. But Barry let the horse find his feet, get his composure and balance back and what he did then was very impressive.”
“The RSA is his target unless the ground came up very, very soft then he may switch to the Arkle. He did prove at Warwick he can cope with two miles and is a horse with incredible talent, he's frightening and he's versatile. He's got the speed and stays and is a bit special.
“It's very exciting to have horses like him and Punchestown in the yard. They are the future and I'll keep going as long as they'll let me but if you have horses like this coming through the system it does help. There's a lot to look forward to in the years to come.”
“Our third runner in the RSA Chase and one who has done nothing wrong all season, he's four from four over fences. He's entitled to be there and is going to run. He's a good solid benchmark and a very good horse.”
“Really wants good ground in the Arkle and he too has done nothing wrong. He's in very good form right now and has to be fresh. I think his owner (James Nesbitt) will be as nervous as anyone on the day, he absolutely loves it. It shows just what Cheltenham means when it touches his nerves if you consider some of the things he's done during his career!”
“Our second Arkle runner and a great, big bull of a horse. He's very talented and I actually think he'll run really well at Cheltenham. We learned a lot from his last run at Doncaster, he's better than that and the track will suit him much more in the Arkle.”
“In the Spinal Research Supreme Novices' Hurdle Oscar Whiskey is a definite runner. He's always been very pacy, very talented. He hasn't had to get into a big scrap yet but with Dunguib in there at Cheltenham I suspect he'll know he's been in a fight this time. He's got a lot of talent.”
“He will run in the Supreme. He got beaten over two-and-a-half which led us to coming back to two at Cheltenham and he's in very good form, he worked very well on Saturday. The only thing he needs to do is get his jumping absolutely nailed on at speed and may lack a little experience but he's talented.”
“Finian's Rainbow is a runner (in the Neptune Investments Novices' Hurdle). This has always been the plan and I was disappointed when he was beaten in the Challow as he came to win it. I may just have been looking after him a little then as he's a big horse, a chaser all over. I only want him for that game but he's doing well at hurldling and has a very good chance at Cheltenham. He jumps well, has speed and can travel through his races.”
“At Kempton on Saturday Soldatino won the Adonis and booked his Cheltenham place. He'll wear ear plugs in the Triumph, as he did at Kempton, and I like him. It looks a pretty weak year among the four-year-olds and we got some practice in on Saturday. He blew up halfway down the back straight, had a blow at the second last too. He was very sensible in the race, didn't pull, was relaxed and jumped and when he got his second wind he picked up and took off. He can only come on an awful lot for the run and he came out of it really well. I think he'll go.”