Henderson quietly confident ahead of Cheltenham Festival

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Nicky Henderson said at a media stable visit organised by Cheltenham Racecourse ahead of The Festival that his strong team for the four days next month has “a bit of strength and a bit of depth”.

The Festival’s leading trainer, with 55 successes, enjoyed two winners last year, Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Altior in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Altior is the trainer’s number one hope this year, going for the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase on the first day, Champion Day Tuesday, March 14, though Henderson suggested somewhat mischievously that perhaps he ought to switch the seven-year-old to the Stan James Champion Hurdle later the same day.

The trainer said: “I was very confident about Altior at this time last year. I think he has transferred his ability to chasing and not made many mistakes.

“The one nice thing is that he has learnt from his two mistakes in four runs – he has done everything right.

“One’s only thought is, goodness, what price would he be for the Champion Hurdle if we were still going down the hurdling road? The big question at the moment is will we dare switch him to take on Douvan in the Champion Chase. No, we won’t. We want to win the Arkle, that is the objective and that is where he will stay.

“You cannot be confident, instead seriously hopeful that you have a horse that can win. You hope he can on the first day because then you have the ball rolling.

“All you need, no matter how many you have got running, is one success at The Festival. If you can have one on the first day, as we did with him in the first race last year, then you have got the show on the road and from then on you can add to it – the world ends if you do not get one.

“This Stan James Champion Hurdle is particularly open and you can see why we have brought back Buveur D’Air from chasing. It was not because he was doing anything wrong over fences but because we thought there is more to come over hurdles. This was before Faugheen was taken out of the Champion Hurdle.

“Altior was always going for the Arkle so Buveur D’Air would have found it difficult to beat him in that race. It seemed an obvious thing really.

“I know the Sandown race (which he won easily) did not tell us anything because he did not beat much. He goes on soft ground and is in good form. He ran third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year at the Festival and most of our very good horses of the future have been placed in the Supreme.

“He finished the Supreme very, very strongly and then he went on to Aintree and beat Petit Mouchoir, which is very solid form over two miles and he is a better horse now.

“Noel Fehily rode him throughout last year and knows the horse very well so if Barry does not ride Buveur D’Air, because he has a number of choices including My Tent Or Yours, who is J P’s (McManus) as well, I don’t think there will be a jockey issue.

“My Tent Or Yours is the forgotten horse in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. He finished second last year and, if you took Annie Power out, he would have been a very good winner. He was also second to Jezki (in 2014). It is an open year and I have been very pleased with My Tent Or Yours recently.

Brain Power has come by a different route through handicaps, winning two lucrative ones impressively, but is going straight to a Grade One. That is a big step up but there hasn’t been a suitable opportunity to run him since he won at Ascot because of the ground. He likes to race when fresh, experience better ground and is going the right way. He will have a racecourse gallop at Kempton on Saturday or next week.

Charli Parcs is a very high-class horse and the natural race for him would be the Triumph Hurdle, though he would be competitive wherever he goes. He is running in the Adonis at Kempton on Saturday first.

“We have always loved Top Notch because he has been so consistent – he is just a tough, honest sort. He was fifth in the Champion Hurdle and that is what he is. He has grown in confidence over fences and been brilliant. He is going for the JLT Novices’ Chase.

Whisper has been targeted at that race too but I am just having thoughts about the RSA Chase. Davy Russell gets on really well with Whisper – neither are in their apprentice years but they have been fantastic together. Whisper might be better going three miles.”

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