Cheltenham Festival News

Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival 2023 stable tour

By Harry Allwood@harry_allwood
Tue 14 Feb 2023

By Harry Allwood at Seven Barrows

Nicky Henderson and Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows on Monday morning (Focusonracing)
Nicky Henderson and Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows on Monday morning (Focusonracing)

With 72 Cheltenham Festival wins to his name, Nicky Henderson is the most successful British trainer at Jump racing's Olympics, and it will be a surprise if he does not add to that tally this year, with Constitution Hill headlining his powerful squad.

The unbeaten superstar was a sensational winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year and is a best-priced 4-11 to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle, while Henderson also has strong claims of landing the Sporting Life Arkle with Jonbon on day one.

Speaking at a media morning hosted by The Jockey Club at his Seven Barrows yard on Monday morning, the six-time champion Jumps trainer discussed his team for this next month's Cheltenham Festival.

Racing TV presenter Anthony Dunkley also spoke to Henderson about his leading lights, so look out for that interview on the channel soon.


AHORSEWITHNONAME

Race: Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

She’s in good form and she’ll go back for that race. She was second in it last year and she’s still a novice – quite how I’ve managed that I’ve absolutely no idea!

Last time went wrong for her (at Wincanton) but she’s doing plenty.


ATTACCA

Race: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Attacca runs at Ascot this weekend. He probably wouldn’t mind quick ground, but he'd have to win well to go for the Ballymore.


BALCO COASTAL

Race: Turners Novices’ Chase.

I would run Balco Coastal. He didn’t do much wrong the other day and I think there’s some improvement to come. He had a right old blow and I thought he’d gone and won the race to be honest with you. It looks quite a good division, but I think he’s entitled to have a go in the Turners.

I think he just got outstayed at Sandown, we’ve quickened up really well from the bend to the second last and he’s just come at him again a little bit. We might wait a little bit longer (before committing) next time but he loves being up there and he jumps really well. I should think he’d go for that.


BUZZ

Race: Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle.

He’s in good form and he’s going well, but I’m not going to get a run into him before it though. I got him ready for the Cesarewitch on the back of an absence. We were very happy with him on Saturday and he’s in fine form.

It was a horrible injury, but it’s not impossible that he’d run. We’ve got Marie’s Rock potentially for that race as well, but we certainly haven’t ruled him out yet. He’d have to have a racecourse gallop and I’d love to have been able to go to Newbury last week rather than wait for Kempton a fortnight before – as I’d rather do it on grass to be honest.

There’s a fractured pelvis and there’s a fractured pelvis and that was horrible. It’s been a long road and there’s been a lot of people involved, he went to do some dressage to try and build him up but you can see he’s very lopsided and very dropped on one side. He moved beautifully on Saturday, and he schooled the other day for the first time, and it had no effect on that. I would have thought that Aintree would be the sensible route I must admit, but you never know.

To get him back will be a pretty amazing thing on its own whatever happens, but we won’t do it unless he’s 101% as it wouldn’t be fair on him. It would probably be unfair to go to Cheltenham first time out to be honest with you, three miles up and down those hills after you’ve had an injury like that wouldn’t be the most sensible thing to do.

He was about to run in the Long Walk before he went wrong and he stays two and a quarter miles on the flat. He’s won over two and a half miles so you’d think he stays three.


CITY CHIEF

Race: National Hunt Chase.

I don’t think City Chief is ready for it – I think he needs another year.

He was great at Wetherby, and the time before. He’s learning but he’s got a bit more to learn and I don’t want him in there this year. He will be there, he’s going the right way all the time but no. He has an entry but I’d rather not.


CONSTITUTION HILL

Race: Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Constitution Hill might go for that one! He’s fine and everything has been going great. He worked on Saturday, and he’s got a couple of more bits to do and we will look to have an away day.

We usually go to Kempton. I would be thinking Newbury but the ground is too quick there at the moment anyways so I don’t think we’ll use that one. Unless the weather changes dramatically we’ll have to see if we can go to Kempton. I’d like Constitution to have a gallop and there’s a few that I’d like to get an away day into.

I think we’re a week early this year, I normally say that we’re just two or three weeks away at these previews but this time it’s four weeks to go. A week is a long time with a horse never mind four, that’s an eternity. This is the first of the previews and this goes on now until the start of the meeting.

You’d have to say he’s been round the track and broken records, so he’s done most things you’d want to see, and he hasn’t done anything wrong. There’s plenty that can go wrong though and that’s the biggest issue. We all know that between now and the start of the festival, that most days there will be news breaking that someone is out of the running, and we just have to keep our fingers crossed that we’re going to get a clean run.

The Contenders Hurdle was lovely, but I think they got fed up with me! It was only worth £25,000 or so but I’d have liked to have run him. I was actually going to have an open day and let people come and see him gallop, but when I thought about it, I thought I’d get quite the crowd and I’d have nowhere to put them! I don’t think it’s feasible unfortunately.

We’re going to have to be careful here as our ground is just drying up. He worked on the grass on Saturday, and it was fine, but I don’t want to go up there tomorrow. There’s no rain forecast at all.

It would be fantastic to win the Champion Hurdle for Michael Buckley. He’s been with me an awful long time and we’ve had great times together, both highs and lows. He’s had a lot of good horses actually, but he’s also had some horrible luck on the way with what were going to be good horses that didn’t make it. I thought Spirit Son was going to be a world beater and he sadly died from an accident while he was on holiday, so various things have gone right and wrong. We’ve had some wonderful times with the likes of Finian's Rainbow and Brain Power, but this is an extraordinary animal. His greatest asset is his head – not that it’s the prettiest – but his whole mind game is brilliant. Not even you guys could frighten him!

His racing game is brilliant. You could go three miles with him because you’d just switch him off and put him to sleep and then wait until you get the right moment and press the button. It really is as simple as that.

I could see him going over fences, without a doubt. That will be a decision for over the summer. If you go back to when we had Altior and he had won the Supreme with Buveur D’Air third. We sat down to work out what we were going to do, and I said to Pat Pugh that we could win the Champion Hurdle if we stay over timber, but it would be too late to go chasing with him if we waited another year.

We schooled him over fences and there was no doubt that he was a chaser, while in the meantime we went chasing as well with Buveur and he didn’t find it as easy. He was hurdling his fences which isn’t the best way to go about it, so we switched him around and we went on to win two Champion Hurdles. You could go chasing with Constitution Hill and you can go as far as you like. We’ll see, but let’s just get through this first. If everything goes right, you’d like to think he’d go from Cheltenham onto Aintree.

We’ve got a proper challenger in State Man, and I can see their point with Honeysuckle to be fair. Both of her runs would suggest that she’s just not quite where she was last year, so it would make sense to go for the Mares’ Hurdle. Having got a couple of mares of our own – two or three maybe – I’d probably prefer her in the Champion Hurdle! She’s been great for the game and most people would like to see her going out in style by winning the Mares’, but I’m afraid I’m not going to be overly popular with my thoughts on that!

He’s doing freakish things, but he’s only had five runs in his life and you have to remember that it’s very early days in his career. Normally when you’re coming to a Champion Hurdle you’re doing so on the back of between 10-12 races or something, so it’s hard to gauge really apart from the fact he’s done nothing wrong.

He’s got an awful long way to go before I start saying things like he’s the best horse I’ve ever had – it took me 10 years to say that about Sprinter Sacre! There is competition and there’s a new kid on the block.


CALL ME LORD

Race: Coral Cup.

The handicaps don’t close for another week so we haven’t done them yet. We’ve started to think about it. Call Me Lord is Pertemps qualified but whether he’d get three miles around Cheltenham I’m not so sure, so the Coral Cup would be more his thing.


CHAMP

Race: --

He goes straight to Aintree. He loves to be fresh and he’s going to go straight to the Liverpool Hurdle.


EPATANTE

Race: Unibet Champion Hurdle or Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (needs to be supplemented).

We don’t know with Epatante at the moment, she’ll run in that (Champion Hurdle) or the Mares’ Hurdle. We’ll keep an eye on the weather but they’ve all got to get there – as does Constitution Hill himself.

We proved at Aintree last year that she stays the two and a half miles, she won very easily that day. It was great to see her win like she did at Doncaster the other day and she was very impressive. I know she’s beaten nothing, but she’s shown what Constitution Hill is beating.

All she did the other day was confirm how good Constitution Hill is, if he keeps slamming her by those distances and she can still come out and beat her own playmates as easily as she did. I thought she was superb the other day and she jumped beautifully.

It’s 50-50 whether she goes to the Champion Hurdle or the Mares’ Hurdle, but just because she isn’t listed at the moment doesn’t mean she isn’t going.


FIRST STREET

Race: Unibet Champion Hurdle or McCoy Contractors Handicap Hurdle.

First Street is still in the Champion Hurdle and he goes to the Kingwell Hurdle on Saturday, which I think will be a good race for him. He had 12 stone in the Betfair Hurdle, so the Kingwell will suit him better. He’d have to win very impressively to go to the Champion but I’m not sure what else he could go for. I suppose you could go for the County Hurdle, but we’ll see.

I feel sorry for First Street who was second to State Man in the County Hurdle last year. What an unfair thing to do to unleash that in the County Hurdle last year!


JET POWERED

Race: --

Jet Powered won’t run in the Supreme. He is fine but whether he runs again this season or not I’m not too sure, we may look at going to Aintree with him. He was disappointing (at Newbury on New Year’s Eve) so we may just have to wait until next year. It wasn’t the trip (which caused him problems last time), he’s a quick horse and he’d be a two-mile horse.

The novice hurdlers have been our weaker department this year. We’ve a nice bunch but they’re just not quite ready. The rest are alright, though.


JONBON

Race: Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase.

I think as we said (at the weekend), I’d take the positives out of Saturday and not the negatives. As you saw when they turned down the back straight, I think Aidan (Coleman) had taken his foot off things and let him get into a nice rhythm and a roll and didn’t see any reason to start going any quicker.

I’m not saying Aidan was asleep but all of a sudden this thing swooped round like a buzzard – whoosh! – and just caught him unaware and the next thing we were four lengths down.

I think it will have done him good personally, he had a really good blow like he’s never done before and I’m going to take positives. It wasn’t pretty to watch – in fact it was bloody awful from where I was watching because it frightened the living daylights out of me! – but he jumped very well and eventually he’s quickened up and won nicely. He ought to have done to be fair because on his previous performances he’d have beaten him by a long way.

I wanted a lead and that’s the first time he’s jumped a fence behind another horse. It didn’t worry him but it did just hurry him a bit. A sharp two miles at Warwick just caught him out for a couple of fences and then he had to chase him around the bend but he got there and did it well in the end.

I spoke to JP (McManus, owner) and everyone and we’re looking at it as a good wake up call for everybody. He will be sharper for it and he had a good old blow, AP (McCoy) went to Warwick and he comes down here a lot. He said to me that he looked fantastically well but he looked ready to go to the show ring and not the racecourse and he perhaps just needed it a little more than we anticipated.

The Arkle will be Helter Skelter and they’ll go a good gallop, but he can go a good gallop as well. He’s made it in his other two runs just because he’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s a good jumper – that’s why I was quite keen to get a lead. It probably was a good thing the others weren’t there as they might’ve beaten him, but he’s back and he’s fine and we’re just going to get on normally. I’d better just sharpen my pencil and get some more work done.

El Fabiolo was good at the Dublin Racing Festival, in what looked a strong race. I think Jonbon drifting in the market was fair and having watched it I was pretty sure he probably would. He doesn’t know his price and I’m not worried about that, though.


LUCCIA

Race: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or Ryanair Mares Novices’ Hurdle.

I don’t know yet, but Luccia ought to run in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. She was impressive at Exeter.

Nico was tempted (by the Supreme) but I think the betting tells you what we’ve got to do. We did put her in it, which I thought was ambitious at the time anyways, but we don’t have to decide now. I would be in favour of sticking with the mares’ race, I must admit.

I’ll speak to the owners nearer to the time, but I’m not going to throw it out. If there was a forfeit stage, you’d leave her in, but I can’t believe you’d throw away the mares’ race. I’m not saying she would win that, but at least you know you’ve got a very good chance of winning that.

I do like winning the Supreme as it helps the week go by, as the pressure is off before you begin, but we haven’t got anything else. Jet Powered won’t go there, but we’ll see with Luccia. We’ll have a look when we get there – but I can’t believe it’s the right thing to do personally.

Probably the only thing that would sway me (in favour of the Supreme) would be the ferries with Willie’s horses on board getting stuck due to Brexit or bad weather! Willie and myself are the best mates in the world and I love him to bits, but I could do this week without him!

When I was going into that race with the likes of Altior and Shishkin, I really was confident. When you were here the year Altior won it and Min was the big talking horse from their camp and all I could think was good luck Min because he won’t beat this one. I can’t say that this time in this context, however.


MARIE'S ROCK

Race: Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle or Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle.

She’s in very good form and it’s certainly possible that she could move up and run in the Stayers’ Hurdle. I’ve discussed it with Tom Palin (Middleham Park Racing) and there’s no doubt we’ll discuss it more, it certainly won’t be a decision that we’ll make in the near future.

There are a few contenders around. I’d say the biggest danger Teahupoo and you’ve got to always respect dear old Paisley Park. There isn’t a standout. In the Mares’ you’re going to have Epatante and Honeysuckle and we might even have Theatre Glory, so there is a bit to be said for at least considering the Stayers’ Hurdle, but we can sit on that.

It’s tempting to go for the Stayers’ Hurdle. I know I was saying with the filly (Luccia) I’d want to take the easier option and go for the Mares’ Novice, but I don’t think the Stayers’ is any more difficult with her getting the 7lbs. I know she’s never run over three miles but she won the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day and she stayed very well. I thought she was very impressive that day and she flew up the hill, so she’s fit and well and it’s something we’ll consider.


MISTER COFFEY

Race: National Hunt Chase.

Mister Coffey will go to the National Hunt Chase. Derek (O’Connor) will ride him at The Festival. He was a bit disappointed to be beaten (at Uttoxeter) but, to be fair, we wanted to make the running and we had a false start, and a standing start, and the trouble is he stayed standing!

Then he got caught horribly wide the whole way round. I thought he should have won really but that’s that. We got a good run into him and he ran a nice race, and this is what we’ve been aiming at all along.


PERSIAN TIME

Race: Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

He also runs at Ascot this weekend. The ground is going to be a worry, but he’d have to win well to go for the Ballymore.


SHISHKIN

Race: Ryanair Chase.

He goes to Ascot (on Saturday, for the Grade One Betfair Chase) and after that, ask Matt Chapman! He tells me I’m a plonker. I’ve nothing for the Champion Chase, unless Matt Chapman is right and I’m a complete so and so for not entering Shishkin. We’ll find that out on Saturday.

It’s an open Champion Chase and he probably should have been in it, but I was impressed with Gary Moore’s horse at Cheltenham to be fair (Editeur Du Gite). Edwardstone looked as though he’d come and won his race, but it does look more open for that result.

Shishkin has been racing as though he wants further to my eye. I hope I’m right, otherwise I’m going to be doing an awful lot more supplementing. I’ve got plenty to do as it is thank you very much! Shishkin is also in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but I wouldn’t have thought he’d go for that.

You could say that Ascot left a mark on him last year, it was a tough race. You don’t really like to see horses racing off the bridle for so long and that’s what he’s done the last twice. I want to see him on the bridle and it’s got to be better for him.

I think the ground at Ascot is Good. It’s only Newbury who can’t water as far as I’m aware so hopefully Ascot have done. If it was too quick he’d have to go to Cheltenham without a run, but I hope it won’t be. It doesn’t look as though we will get any rain so it will have to be man-made.

The flipped palate could have affected him last time and I think we’ll probably put a tongue tie on him as well. It certainly makes a case for Matt Chapman! Maybe I am wrong.

I feel sorry for them (about Allaho) because he’s an outstanding horse. This is what’s going to happen for the next four weeks and that’s why it’s absolute hell. We all look forward to it, but you’re tip toeing on eggshells for four weeks. That changes the Ryanair big time and hopefully makes me agree that little bit less with Matt Chapman!


STEAL A MARCH

Race: Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

He won at Worcester on Derby Day last year, which was very special as it was on Jubilee weekend. We were all trying to get winners that weekend for The Queen.

The Queen Consort has had horses of her own before, but I think he was The King’s first jumps winner. He’s improved a fair bit all of a sudden.

We’ve got quite a strong team for the race to be fair, but I was impressed with him the last time. It would be nice to have him run - it would be very nice to have him win of course – but it would be lovely if they could come to watch. It would be good for racing.


THEATRE GLORY

Race: Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle (needs to be supplemented).

The ground might have a lot to do with it. Theatre Glory needs very good ground and needs to be supplemented, but she could go for the Mares'. You can take it she is an intended runner - I said at the beginning when it appeared that Epatante wasn’t a runner, she should be treated for betting purposes as a runner.


WALKING ON AIR

Race: Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.

Walking On Air is qualified for the Pertemps and I was pleased with him (when winning at Exeter).


Nicky Henderson’s 72 Cheltenham Festival winners

1985 See You Then - Unibet Champion Hurdle

1985 The Tsarevich - Festival Plate Handicap Chase

1985 First Bout - JCB Triumph Hurdle

1986 River Ceiriog - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

1986 See You Then - Unibet Champion Hurdle

1986 The Tsarevich - Festival Plate Handicap Chase

1987 See You Then - Unibet Champion Hurdle

1987 Alone Success - JCB Triumph Hurdle

1989 Rustle - Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle

1990 Brown Windsor - Cathcart Chase

1990 Master Bob - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

1991 Remittance Man - Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase

1992 Remittance Man - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

1992 Flown - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

1993 Travado - Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase

1993 Thumbs Up - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

1994 Raymylette - Cathcart Chase

1997 Barna Boy - McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

1999 Stormyfairweather - Cathcart Chase

1999 Katarino - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2000 Tiutchev - Sporting Life Arkle

2000 Marlborough - Ultima Handicap Chase

2000 Stormyfairweather - Cathcart Chase

2000 Bacchanal - Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle

2002 The Bushkeeper - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

2005 Trabolgan - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2005 Liberthine – Festival Plate Handicap Chase

2005 Juveigneur - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

2006 Fondmort - Ryanair Chase

2006 Non So – Festival Plate Handicap Chase

2006 Greenhope - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

2009 Punjabi - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2009 Zaynar - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2009 Andytown - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

2010 Binocular - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2010 Spirit River - Coral Cup

2010 Soldatino - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2011 Bobs Worth - Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

2011 Long Run - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup

2012 Sprinter Sacre - Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase

2012 Simonsig - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

2012 Bobs Worth - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2012 Finian’s Rainbow - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2012 Une Artiste - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

2012 Riverside Theatre - Ryanair Chase

2012 Bellvano - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Hurdle

2013 Simonsig - Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase

2013 Rajdhani Express - Northern Trust Company Novices’ H’cap Chase

2013 Sprinter Sacre - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2013 Bobs Worth - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup

2014 Whisper - Coral Cup

2015 Call The Cops - Pertemps Network Final

2015 Peace And Co - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2016 Altior - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2016 Sprinter Sacre - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2017 Altior - Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase

2017 Buveur D’Air - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2017 Might Bite - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2018 Buveur D’Air - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2018 Altior - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2019 Beware The Bear - Ultima Handicap Chase

2019 William Henry - Coral Cup

2019 Altior - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

2019 Pentland Hills - JCB Triumph Hurdle

2020 Shishkin - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2020 Epatante - Unibet Champion Hurdle

2020 Champ - Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

2020 Dame de Compagnie - Coral Cup

2021 Shishkin - Sporting Life Arke Novices’ Chase

2021 Chantry House - Turners Novices’ Chase

2022 Constitution Hill – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2022 Marie’s Rock – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

Leading trainer at The Festival (9 times): 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, 2000, 2010, 2012.

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