Nicky Henderson: Stable Tour including Altior, Buveur d'Air and Might Bite

Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson talks us through some of his team for the 2019/20 National Hunt season.

Altior

I think he will stay three miles, both Nico [De Boinville] and I feel that he would appreciate another half a mile anyway.

If anyone has any notions that because Kempton is a flat track it is an easy track, it isn’t. Stamina-wise you have to stay every bit of three miles in the King George. They always go at a good gallop – there is no hiding places to take a break. If you ran at Cheltenham, or somewhere else, there is always somewhere in the race to have a bit of a breather.

He has never been beaten [over jumps]. We all accept that it has got to happen and sooner or later it’s bound to. Obviously, we would prefer it not to but that is being wishful.

We are going to try the step up in trip at Ascot in the 1965 Chase and it will certainly give us a clue – if he doesn’t stay then there is no point trying to go on over three miles. In which case we will just have to come back down to two miles, and even though we will have forfeited the Tingle Creek, we come back to what we know we are good at.

I think if you go back to two or three years ago when he was a novice hurdler and we sat down with Christopher and Pat Pugh, we discussed whether to go novice chasing with him or not because I was fairly confident at the time he would be well capable of winning a Champion Hurdle.

Luckily, it looks like that was the right decision and he has been spectacular the whole way through.

I think the Ascot race is the obvious place to start. There will be plenty of opposition and pace and I’m sure they will try and stretch his stamina.

His style of racing tells you he has plenty of gears and his jumping is so exuberant – that is actually the danger. You have to try and curtail this if he is genuinely going to stay the trip because he will be over racing or he’ll be jumping his way to the front and that isn’t really the way to do it. He needs to learn to settle. That is why I don’t want to go to Tingle Creek then the King George because I think it is unnatural going from two miles to three miles in one go. I think we need to have a race over a longer distance to teach him to drop it a little bit early on in the race.


WATCH: Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson talks us through his chasing team


Angels Breath

He never comes in looking too fat and so we tried to put some weight on him. By the time you’ve blinked twice he has put on so much weight I am now trying to get it off. He has schooled very well over fences so far, he has been very good and the plan is to go novice chasing.

Apples Shakira

I think I will start her over hurdles and then just see how she is. If she settled down, then you could probably try her over a fence.

Arturus

He is a son of Camelot, who isn’t your most obvious national hunt sire. He didn’t get a run last year – he was one of those that was virtually ready to go but he’s a big, big horse, he probably didn’t need a run, he was growing all the time. He’s grown in to a mighty horse, he was always a beautiful horse. With his pedigree and looks he has everything, but he’s still got to do it.

Beware the Bear

He is an out and out stayer. We weren’t entered in the Grand National having won the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March but I think if we had been, we’d have been tempted especially with what we’d learnt at Cheltenham. This year we have had a chat about the National and decided it is going to be the objective. You’d have to worry that he is going to have quite a lot of weight but on the other hand if Tiger Roll does come then at least he’ll keep the weights down for a few of us. We’ve been second in the Grand National a couple of times but it’s not a race we have found easy as everybody knows. It would be lovely to try and tick that box.

Birchdale

The plan is to go novice chasing too. He has schooled very well.

Buveur D’air

I thought he was very good at Punchestown. His jumping came back to its usual slickness. Cheltenham was disappointing, when he fell, and it was sad really that you had this opportunity to win a third Unibet Champion Hurdle, he probably deserved to do it. Otherwise, he’s done nothing wrong and it was great to finish the season on a really good note like that, he was impressive.

He’s the horse that I honestly believe they’ve all got to beat. It’s very sad that last year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle winner, another horse owned by JP McManus (Espoir D'Allen), is no longer with us, so there is no reigning champion. He won the Irish equivalent at Punchestown which should have really put him back on top of the pile.

There are always young bucks coming along behind, we had the two best juveniles in England and Ireland last season. Pentland Hills won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and then the Grade 1 at Aintree and then Fusil Raffles - who unfortunately couldn’t get to either of those because of a horrible cut he got when he won the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton - won the Grade 1 at Punchestown. There are others, the horse that won the Supreme last year, Klassical Dream, he looks the most likely if there’s a novice to come out of it.

The aim is to start him back at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth, then I expect it will be the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton - much the same prep for Cheltenham as last year, all going well.

I think he’s in very good form. We’ve always felt he did have an issue with kissing spines and he has had a pretty routine operation to try and help them. I think they are helping him - he’s just very fluid in himself at the moment. We’ll see, we’ve got a long way to go yet.


WATCH: Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson talks us through his hurdling team


Champ

Champ probably should have been unbeaten last season. I must admit, I should have swapped him and Birchdale at Cheltenham and run Champ in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and Birchdale in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. We had rather committed ourselves and I regret it.

Champ was a very good second in the Ballymore, then he came out and won the Grade 1 at Aintree and he looked very good. He is a three miler. He is an enthusiastic three miler, he has schooled over fences, he was a little bit too enthusiastic to start with. We took him to Warwick the other day and had a school there and he was very good. He will go novice chasing.

Champagne Platinum

I think he is good, he’s a very talented horse. He has jumped very well so far over fences. He will go Novice chasing.

Chantry House

He is a lovely horse. He was very good in his bumper at Warwick, that’s all he did and there wasn’t any need to do anymore. He’s schooled and he’s very good at that. Over what distance we will run him I’m not sure.

Corrany

Corrany I like a lot and I think has grown and developed and has improved quite considerably on last year. He is in good shape, he has done really well throughout the summer.

Dickie Diver

Everything he did last season he did very well. He’s had a few problems, probably growing pains more than anything because he is a big raw horse. He loves soft ground and stays three miles and he will go novice chasing.

Downtown Getaway

He is a horse that has been a little bit hard to train, but he probably ought to be novice chasing. I’m not sure I wouldn’t like to win a novice hurdle on the way but we’ll see.

Felony

He is one of the obvious ones, I think he’s a nice horse by Getaway. He has showed us plenty.

Fugitives Drift

He was hardly ready for the Goffs Spring Sales bumper at Newbury on debut but it was a really nice eye catching run and then we put him away. He was in a bit later than the others so he is not quite as forward. He is a very likeable horse.

Fusil Raffles and Petland Hills

The juvenile situation was bizarre last year. Firstly, Fusil Raffles came out and won the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) at Kempton and I’ve got to say he slightly surprised me. We then got down to the winner’s enclosure and he had injured his hind leg and so the Triumph hurdle dream had lasted about three minutes.

Then we had Pentland Hills who hadn’t run. Not for any good reason but he’d been busy on the flat so we gave him a break to Henrietta Knights to school and to learn to jump. Henrietta said from day one this horse is brilliant and so we launched him at Plumpton just a fortnight before the Triumph Hurdle. The one thing about him that day at Plumpton was he was so professional. He was like a horse who has been doing it all his life, he was dead straight over his hurdles. So we ran him in the Triumph Hurdle and in fact there was nearly a disaster at the first but from there on he was brilliant and again he surprised me to be honest. Then he went onto Aintree and franked the whole performance. It was no fluke; it was absolutely rock solid, He was very good at Aintree.

We got Fusil Raffles back in time to go to Punchestown where he won the Grade 1 juvenile over there. So, having thought we’d got no juveniles last year we finished up with the top two which is a nice position to be in. The thing you have to be careful with is, how many five-year olds have won a Unibet Champion hurdle? Catch It I think was the last one. See You Then did so we’ve managed it once before but it’s a difficult, they have a very difficult second season.

Fusil Raffles will want a bit more time, he’s not quite ready. Pentland Hills could possibly go to the Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

Giant’s Table

He is nice horse – he’s won a point to point in Ireland. He’s a good-looking horse by Great Pretender. I look forward to him enormously.

Lust For Glory

She is a mare I like a lot. I do think she wants good ground, she won her first couple of races which was very impressive, then she got beaten in soft ground. I think she will certainly go over fences, so I hope she’s a good mare.

Might Bite

Last year was bitterly disappointing. We’ve done everything we can but we haven’t come across anything blatantly obvious. A bit like trying to get Sprinter Sacre back, It’s just trying to get his confidence back, so we’re trying to make everything nice and easy for him and hopefully he gets to enjoy himself. He schooled this morning and he’s on good form.

Nico is keen to come back in trip but I just don’t see how a horse that’s made the running like he did in a Gold Cup, King George or around Aintree and goes a really good gallop, actually wants to come back to a shorter distance. We discuss these things and normally we agree with each other, we will see. We haven’t decided where we are going to start.

Mister Fisher

He looks set to go novice chasing, I wasn’t sure whether he should do another season of hurdling, but I said to his owner, James Potter, lets school him over fences and see what he tells us and then we’ll decide which way to go. The first morning I schooled him I called James up at lunch time and said I’d already found out which way to go and that is novice chasing. I think two and a half miles could suit him well. He has grown a lot, he is a beautiful looking horse. He has definitely strengthened up over the summer and has been jumping fences really well.

My Whirlwind

She’s a lovely mare, she’s beautiful. We haven’t done a lot with her – she’s schooled and won a point to point, I don’t think I will bother with a bumper. She is a very, very good-looking mare. I hope she is as good as she looks.

Ok Corral

He’s had a good summer and has come back in great form, he looks fantastic. I’m afraid I go back to the same as with Santini, the flu vaccination cost him at Cheltenham. Some horses act completely differently to others. OK Corral came out with a football on his neck and he couldn’t bend his neck for a fortnight.

When you see what he did in that race at Warwick in the Novice Chase he was seriously impressive. He travelled throughout, he was the winner of the race after a mile. Warwick is a relatively easy track and you need a bit of speed and he was different class. His jumping and everything was fantastic. He actually made you question whether he needed the four miles – I don’t think he does. He will run over three miles. I have discussed the Ladbroke trophy a bit with JP McManus and there are lots of places we could go. He is in very good form, he looks great, he is quite an old horse but as a young horse we had a lot of problems with him. Where he finishes up, he could be anything from a Gold Cup horse to a Grand National horse.

Precious Cargo

He is a lovely big horse. He will definitely go over fences and the one thing he has is a lot of pace. He is well schooled. I should think he will be a two miler.

Rathhill

Rathhill has been great so far this year. We toyed with novice chasing with him but a lot of those horses mentioned Champ, Champagne Platinum Dickie Diver and Birchdale they are all JP McManus’ so he’s going to have a strong hand of novice chasers here and I expect he’s got plenty more elsewhere. Rathhill only had two runs over hurdles, he is chaser in the making but we might just stay back over hurdles for another season and see how he gets on. He only had two runs and a bit more experience wouldn’t do any harm.

Santini

He has summered well, he looks great. He had a very bizarre season last year. He was very good the first time at Newbury, then he got beaten at Kempton on Boxing Day by La Bague Au Roi and Topofthegame. He finished his race very well, I just don’t think Kempton really suited him and consequently I think he’s probably not on the King George shortlist at the moment anyway. He had the most dreadful preparation for Cheltenham, we got caught up in the vaccination disaster, he was due to run in the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot because he needed more experience. We couldn’t run in the Reynoldstown because we had to revaccinate and then he had a foot problem. It was a crazy preparation, but we got him there. His performance under the circumstances was outstanding.

There is a nice intermediate chase at Sandown which we’ve used in the past and I think the chances are he’ll start there, and we’ll try and build him up from there.

Sunshade

Sunshade was very impressive at Cheltenham at the back end of the season having had problems all the way through last season. We got a run into her and she won a listed hurdle very impressively. She jumps fences very well too, so she’ll be going novice chasing. She could be pretty smart.

Verdana Blue

She was amazing last year. She had just the most glorious season, the whole winter went her way because it was such a dry one. She went to the Christmas hurdle where she beat Buveur D’air by literally the shortest of short heads. It was quick ground and Nico rode her to her strength. I think the ground had a lot to do with it but fair play to her. There was talk of Melbourne Cups, there was talk of all sorts of things. She ran in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the ground was blatantly too soft for her so Davy Russell looked after her and she came back and won the Scottish Champion hurdle.

We have had a bad start to this season to be honest with you. There are a couple of things with her feet, but she’ll be back. She does have to have fast ground. If she was to take on Buveur D’air on soft ground the result would be very, very different.


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