Nicky Henderson talks us through his leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival - headed by Altior.
THE STAR TURNS
He’s won 17 consecutive races because he’s very good – you have to be to put that sort of run together. He’s always had a huge amount of natural talent. Perhaps there is the element as he goes on and becomes more dominant, the opposition sometimes wilts a little behind you as they don’t take you on away from the very big days. They won’t leave him alone in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase though, everyone wants to run in it. We’ll see, it’s going to be tough, it always is.
We’ve been down this road before and we’re so lucky that almost as soon as we had to retire Sprinter Sacre, then this fellow comes along.
He’s got to do what he’s got to do. He has to be beaten somewhere and I just hope it isn’t in the Champion Chase. That’s the race you build up for. If everything does go right we’ll probably branch out and do something different next season and get him beaten, but if we can stay this way at the moment, that would be great.
We managed to beat him at Kempton with a mare of our own in VERDANA BLUE who is very smart on good ground. She’ll struggle to beat him at Cheltenham though when it will be at least good to soft – it won’t be allowed to get any quicker than that. Any softer than that and she won’t run.
There are two factors going into this race. I don’t think he was at his best last year but we know why. He was in a box next to We Have A Dream who on the Monday morning of Cheltenam week had a screaming temperature. They lived absolutely nose-to-nose.
At 6am we got We Have A Dream out of the barn, he hadn’t touched a scrap of his food. Buveur D’Air is as tough as teak and didn’t get over Cheltenham at all last year. We were going back to Aintree, which should have been a piece of cake, but he couldn’t do it.
He wasn’t impressive in the Champion, it took him apart, races don’t affect him at all normally.
He got away with it but it was a bit scrappy. He’s going to have to be better this year because the opposition is better with the obvious threats being Apple’s Jade and Laurina.
Buveur D’Air is bidding to win a third Unibet Champion Hurdle, something we managed to achieve with See You Then. There are some similarities between the two although this one doesn’t try to bite and kick you which makes life a little easier. We loved See You Then. He was great, very talented but unsound. We couldn’t run him very often. He didn’t have a huge public following, they didn’t get to see him much and he was nicknamed See You When not Then but he was great for us and our first Festival winner.
Buveur D’Air is very good and while he has a tough fight on his hands in three weeks' time, he seems in great form going into it.
He was very good in the International at Cheltenham and that’s the way to ride him and the way to travel him. Good ground helps and I was never intending to run him again before the Champion. He’s in great form and is a little bit of a forgotten horse. I know it wasn’t a vintage International but it was one of the better races in Britain. I have to say the main opposition to Buveur D’Air seems to be in Ireland though.
It’s a pity he couldn’t run at Ascot on Saturday as that was where he was meant to be but as it turned out that was Cyrname’s race and he was very impressive. I can't say we'd have beaten him. He’ll now go straight to the Ryanair. He’s lovely, everyone adores him here, but he’s probably just five pounds short of being an absolute Grade One star. We’ll turn up at Cheltenham and in great form. He ran in the Long Walk and that was a little prep – you couldn’t have asked any more of him at Kempton last time. He’s on the list of horses we’re looking forward to.
THE RISING STARS
He’s had one run for us in which they only jumped four hurdles and yet he still heads the market for the Sky Bet Supreme. We have him, Mister Fisher and Champagne Platinum for the race.
I do think Angel’s Breath is very good but I’m desperate to get a run into him somewhere this weekend.
MISTER FISHER has never stopped improving and always shown us he’s a good horse and I’d be hopeful he’ll be thereabouts at Cheltenham too. It’s nice to be going there with two or three live contenders. It’s the first race of the meeting and a great one to win – it takes all the pressure off for the rest of the week.
We’ve been placed with some very good horses like Buveur D’Air and Sprinter Sacre and luckily Altior came out and won it.
I’d love to give him another run before the RSA Chase but there’s isn’t a race and I can’t do it. We’ll have to try and do it at home. I wanted the run for the experience more than anything but now we’ve got schooling and work to do here. We’ve missed a race we could really have done with but he’s in good form,
It’s interesting that everyone seemed almost unanimous that after he finished third in the Feltham at Kempton that the first two wouldn’t beat him at Cheltenham. The winner, La Bague Au Roi, isn’t going to run and Topofthegame is really good. He has work to do on the racecourse to beat him – and at home before we get there.
JP MCMANUS' BAND OF STAR NOVICES
He’d be one of our big chances for the week in the Ballymore. He’s looked very good in his two races this season at Newbury – including the Challow last time. He’s a very good, solid, straightforward horse.
It’s well-documented where he got his name from and he’s a bit like AP himself in a funny way, he’s very professional, gets on with the job and does it very well.
He’s also owned by JP and you’re hardly going to run Champ and him together. They could both run in the Ballymore but of the two this is the one I’d step up to three miles for the Albert Bartlett. I have been known to change my mind at the last minute before but I think that’s the way we’ll go. This horse did very well to win at Cheltenham last time, he was very green, and I hope he learned enough that day. I think he should have done . He’s good.
She’s very good. She worked well this morning and went great and needs a run this weekend when she's in five races. She’s a very smart mare.
We were heading for the National Hunt Chase before he won at Warwick last time – and still are – but the way he did it over three miles there you’d have to say he looked like he could go in the RSA. However, if you asked Derek O’Connor if he’s going to stay four miles I’m pretty confident he’d say yes!
We’ve tinkered with a few things under the bonnet since his run in the 32Red King George at Kempton. Obviously he’s not been the same horse this season as he was last, when he won at Aintree having been beaten by Native River in a great Gold Cup.
But I was very, very pleased with him last Saturday when he did his first piece of work. He’s giving us the right vibes, maybe I’m being a little optimistic, but it would be nice to see him back and on decent ground. I’m hoping he is in good form.
We are struggling with the juvenile hurdlers at the moment. I was very disappointed with LASKADINE at Haydock on Saturday. ADJALI was disappointing on his last run at Cheltenham having been edged out by Quel D'Estin in The Finale at Chepstow. We do still have one left to run - FUSIL RAFFLES who is in at Kempton and Warwick at the weekend. He works on Tuesday and will probably go in the Adonis.