Nicky Henderson's Best Chances of Cheltenham Festival Success This Year
|January 30, 2017 09:31:47 PM|
By: John Harrison
Former Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson will be hoping the 2017 Cheltenham Festival is a meeting to remember as his yard of horses at Seven Barrows will be preparing now for the biggest week of the year in national hunt racing.
Henderson had two winners at the 2016 meeting. Altior won the opening race of the week in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle where he beat the highly regarded Willie Mullins novice Min, while the following day, Sprinter Sacre returned to his best to land the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The Seven Barrows trainer has already beaten his 2015-16 tally in the campaign so far as, at the time of writing, he has notched up 93 wins to his name this season. Lough Derg, who was one of the Oddschecker tips at Doncaster recently when he won a maiden, looks like he could be a decent horse of the future. As mentioned on the Oddschecker page, he came on from the experience of his opening run at Warwick to get out on top in Yorkshire. There was also a good win for Vaniteux in a Listed race at Kempton last weekend in what has been a good month for the three-time Champion Trainer.
Here is a look at Henderson’s leading hopes for success at the Festival in March:
Altior – Arkle
Since the retirement of Sprinter Sacre, Altior has firmly established himself as the leading star of Henderson’s yard. Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has made a seamless transition to fences in the 2016/17 campaign where he is unbeaten in three starts.
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Henderson took the decision not to aim for the Champion Hurdle this season as he felt the time was right to go chasing. That move has paid off so far as he has not made one mistake in his three runs.
The biggest prize Altior has taken since going chasing was the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase which he won by six lengths where Charbel led the chase of the other three runners.
Altior is set to take on Min again in the Arkle in a renewal of their rivalry. Henderson’s runner is now 5/4 for the 2m novice chase on day one of the meeting and is his best chance of the winner at this year’s Festival.
Buveur D’Air – JLT Novices’ Chase
Like his stablemate Altior, Buveur D’Air also switched to chasing this season and has yet to taste to defeat over fences. He started his campaign at Haydock where he scored in a four-runner novice chase after going off odds-on for the contest.
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Henderson’s chaser gained more experience at Warwick where he faced four rivals in his second novice chase. He made one mistake in that 2m contest but with Aidan Coleman on board, the pair recovered and asserted control of the race after jumping the last obstacle.
The JLT Novices’ Chase betting is currently headed by Yorkhill who is the 2/1 favourite, however, Buveur D’Air is second best on that list, suggesting he has to be within a big chance of going close in this contest.
Charli Parcs – Triumph Hurdle
No trainer in history has had more winners in the Triumph Hurdle than Henderson who has won on six occasions, his first coming in 1985 when First Bout won the race, while more recently Peace and Co gave him success in 2015.
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J.P. McManus purchased Charli Parcs from France at the back end of last year. Since joining the Seven Barrows yard, he has had the one run where he was a comfortable winner at Kempton in a juvenile hurdle.
The four-year-old clearly has a lot of potential and is one of the most highly regarded horses in the Triumph. He can be backed at 8/1 to give Henderson his seventh success in the race this year.
Kotkikova – Mares’ Hurdle
Due to the dominance of Irish trainer Willie Mullins, Henderson has never won the Mares’ Hurdle since it was launched in 2008. He will be hoping to score in the race for the first time in March with Kotkikova.
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The six-year-old mare has not been with Henderson for long but came with an impressive record from France where she won 11 of her 14 starts. The biggest win of her career so far was a Grade One contest Auteuil where she scored on Very Soft ground over the 2m5f trip.
Kotkikova ran for the first time in the UK and Ireland since crossing the channel in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. She could only finish sixth as she found no extra in close stages of the 3m contest which was won by Vroum Vroum Mag.
The betting for the Mares’ Hurdle this year will be dictated by last year’s winner Vroum Vroum Mag. If Mullins’ horse runs against her own sex, rather than the Stayers’ Hurdle, she will be warm favourite to defend her crown. On the other hand, if the Championship race on Thursday is her target, the Mares’ Hurdle will be wide open and on the back of her form in France, Kotkikova has to be a key contender.
Brain Power – Champion Hurdle
Brain Power is set to be Henderson’s best chance of winning the Champion Hurdle in March. Although the six-year-old has a lot to find to match the form of the last two winners of the race, Faugheen and Annie Power, there is no guarantee Mullins’ superstars will run. Neither of them have made their seasonal reappearance yet suggesting they have been struggling with a setback in the early stages of the campaign.
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The absence of the top two in the current Champion Hurdle market will leave the contest wide open. Brain Power put himself in contention for the race with arguably a career best run at Ascot last time out. He scored in the Grade Three Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle by five lengths. It was an impressive display and if there is more to come from the six-year-old, his future could be very bright.
Henderson clearly holds the horse in high regard with the Champion Hurdle entry and he knows exactly what it takes to train the winner of this race as he has done so five times.
Gigginstown Switch Leaves Trainers’ Prize Wide Open
The decision of Michael O’Leary to switch 60 of his horses from Willie Mullins to various other yards has left the top trainer prize at the Festival wide open this year. Henderson and Paul Nicholls will both be in with a chance if a number of their leading contenders win their respective races, while the key to the award could come in the handicaps where Henderson always has a sizeable amount of entries.