Nicky Henderson on his leading Cheltenham Festival hopes

Nicky Henderson talks us through his leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival - headed by Altior.

THE STAR TURNS

ALTIOR

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.

Altior surges past Un De Sceaux at Sandown
Altior surges past Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek at Sandown

BUVEUR D’AIR

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.

Click here to back Buveur D'Air at 7/4 with Sky Bet (Non Runner No Bet)...

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.

Buveur D'Air and Melon fight out the finish to the Unibet Champion Hurdle
Buveur D'Air is below his best but wins a second Champion Hurdle

BUBBLING UNDER

BRAIN POWER

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.

Brain Power jumps to victory in the Unibet International Hurdle
Brain Power jumps to victory in the Unibet International Hurdle

TOP NOTCH

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.

Top Notch jumps his way to victory at Sandown
Top Notch jumps his way to victory at Sandown

THE RISING STARS

ANGELS BREATH

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.

Angels Breath impresses at Ascot
Angels Breath impresses at Ascot

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.

SANTINI

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.

Mister Fisher wins impressively at Kempton
Mister Fisher wins impressively at Kempton

JP MCMANUS' BAND OF STAR NOVICES

CHAMP

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.

Click here to back Champ at 11/4 with Sky Bet (Non Runner No Bet)...

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.

Champ (green and gold) wins under Barry Geraghty
Champ (green and gold) wins under Barry Geraghty

BIRCHDALE

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.

EPATANTE

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.

OK CORRAL

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!

OK Corral on his way to winning at Warwick
OK Corral on his way to winning at Warwick

COMEBACK KING?

MIGHT BITE

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.

Might Bite in action at Haydock
Might Bite in action on his Haydock reappearance

UNLIKELY TRIUMPH

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.


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