Watch and read more from Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson who provides the inside track on 35 of his leading lights and potential champions for the 2021-22 jumps season.
All eyes will be on Shishkin this year as he bids to fill Altior's void after Nicky Henderson's star two-mile chaser was retired in September.
The Seven Barrows handler also has Buveur D'Air, Champ, Chantry House and Epatante to go to war with this season, as well as a number of exciting prospects and potential superstars, including Dusart, I Am Maxiumus and Douvan's full brother Jonbon.
Although Henderson was slightly down on winners last season, the six-times champion trainer looks set for another successful season with his powerful team, and the Unibet ambassador has provided the inside track on 35 of his leading lights below.
So far, so good. We are doing nothing but cantering for miles and miles in the sand at the moment, waiting for the grass. I am not going to do anything on the all-weather, so it will only be when he can get on the grass and it is slow enough will we branch out of there. There is no point trying to cut corners now. He could be anything, I think he is really, really good.
We ran about five in the two bumpers at Aintree and they all ran shocking. After what he showed at Kempton, you thought he was a certainty at Aintree, but he didn’t show up at all. He is back, he is in very good form, he is obviously very good. He hasn’t schooled yet this season, but we schooled him at the back end of last year and he was very good.
He reminds me of L’ami Serge when he first arrived here. He is a big, tall, imposing, chasey type of horse that hadn’t won his novice hurdle at Auteuil and I think L’ami had been second four or five times. Balkeo has been second twice in what I think look very respectable races. The beauty is he a novice hurdler for this year and you would like to think he will go chasing next year.
He could have easily won one of his bumpers last year, and probably should have won one. Instead, he was very promising in all of them.
You would like to think that he is top class. I think that we all thought he would win his bumper at Newbury first time out. He ran horribly keen and then we left him alone until the Spring. He won a bumper at Southwell and then a little novice hurdle at Warwick. He is a very, very pacey horse with a load of talent.
It probably wasn’t the right thing to run him at Aintree. He’d done everything right up to that point. He wanted minding and then he got thrown into that, but he’s a horse I like a lot. He was very impressive when he won at Warwick, then he ran well at Newbury.
We have schooled him over fences, and you have to say he was sensational. He was seriously good and that was only a fortnight ago, so we’ll keep doing that. He loves soft ground. I don’t know how far he’ll get but he looks like a natural novice chaser.
He ran a fantastic race at Aintree, I thought he was very unlucky not to win. He travelled beautifully, and the horse in front of him fell at the last hurdle on the far side (of the track) which suddenly opened up the gap and he couldn’t resist it. Unfortunately, that was far too soon for him to make his move and then there was a loose horse, but he ran a great race.
We were then looking forward to going up to 3m at Punchestown, but he picked up a nasty injury. He’s not back here yet, but the leg feels good and hopefully he’ll be back. It’s going to be a longshot, because age creeps up on us all. We’re persevering with him at the moment and it would be lovely to get him back.
It was the Stafford family’s idea, in the middle of the summer when the horse was out in the field, to run in the Cesarewitch. I thought it was crazy. First of all, he wants soft ground, and you won’t get that at Newmarket. Second, how am I going to get him ready? I would need to give him a prep run. I thought it was a pretty crackers idea.
He came in on July 12, which was 12 weeks before the race. He had one racecourse gallop on one weekend when it rained. We took him to Newbury for a gallop on his own, and he had a nice time which helped him a lot. We had a very clean run, having to be pretty hard on him. He was having to gallop twice a week to get there.
The improvement throughout last season was dramatic and the important bit was that he proved his stamina at Aintree. So now it’s a question of how far he can go. We may try him straight over 3m since he now has a run under his belt. He could be anything, particularly when the ground is soft.
He looks like a horse that would gallop and jump round Aintree, but he ran in the Topham Chase and Daryl (Jacob) said he hated it. I think he is probably a two and half miles or two miles and six furlongs horse. When he is good, he is outstanding. His first run at Newbury last year was terrifying and everyone kept telling me how fast the time was. We then probably ran him back a bit quick and a few things went wrong, it wasn’t very satisfactory. We have got to manage him slightly better.
He’s definitely going chasing; he looks like a chaser. He’s won his novice hurdle and he’s got a bit of experience so he can get on with it.
Watch: Nicky Henderson provides an update on his laeding chasers, including Champ, Shishkin, Chantry House and Mister Fisher
We certainly have an explanation for his disappointing run in the Gold Cup. His issue with his back goes back a long time and Ger Kelly who does a lot of JP’s veterinary work and comes over here regularly, always said when he operated on his back two and a half years ago, that he knows there is more that he needs to get out of there.
We came back to Newbury and ran him in the Game Spirit Chase instead of the Denman Chase, that was on purpose, so he technically didn’t get as hard a race. He went around Newbury and I have never seen him jump so well, it was a fantastic performance. He jumped brilliantly and you would say it was a good Gold Cup trial.
I think he put so much into it that day (at Newbury) that he had damaged his back again. He went to the first fence in the Gold Cup and just flopped over it. He did the same at the second and third fences and he was then pulled up. He has now had a new form of back surgery and all I can say is that at the moment we are going great. We will keep schooling down to a bare minimum, I think the less jumping he does the better – he has got a lot of fences to jump on the racecourse. At the moment he is going really well, he looks superb.
The Betfair Chase is the project. The one thing you need to keep in mind for Champ is that he has to go left-handed, so the King George is of no use to him. We have always said he has the potential to be a Gold Cup horse and he has Gold Cup form, so we have just got to make sure everything goes right.
When he ran at Cheltenham early on last season, he jumped appallingly, and we had a back problem with him. We did some surgery on him; he had kissing spines. From the day of surgery to when he came back and won at Wetherby was exactly eight weeks which is a very quick turnaround, he did really well.
He went into the Cheltenham Festival in really good form and then he went and followed it up at Aintree. We tried him over a bit further (at Aintree) and he got it well, which was no great surprise, if you can stay two miles and four furlongs at Cheltenham you are pretty likely to get three miles at Aintree. That confirms that he could stay and therefore gives us options. You could start over two and a half miles or three miles this season.
At the moment I would be looking at Sandown for the Future Stars Intermediate Chase. Pym won it last year and Santini has won it. It is an obvious race for the second season novices just to get their eye in.
I think he’s a proper chaser. He’s a lovely big horse, all quality and a good jumper. He travels very well through his races. We haven’t schooled over fences yet but he’s ready to.
He is a big, raw horse. I was amazed that he was even ready to win one bumper, I didn’t think he would take two. We had to give him a fair bit of a break between the two, but he is undoubtedly a talented, lovely horse.
He was very unlucky last year. He won his first start very impressively and I think at the time everybody thought it was a good race. Then he had a horrific accident where he staked himself, he was lucky to survive. To get him back last season was even more miraculous. I probably should have gone 2m4f at Aintree. I’m not saying he would have won, but he would have found it easier. I’m sure he learned a lot at Aintree, he ran a very good race over a trip that was definitely too short for him.
At the moment, we’re inclined to stay over hurdles and just see where he can go. He’s only had two runs in his life, so it would be quite tough to be going straight over fences. He looks fantastic and he schools really well. He’s quite forward so we just need a bit of rain.
Nicky Henderson provides an update on his leading hurdlers
She’s in very good form. We’re going down the tried and tested route which I think we’ve done every year for the last four or five years with JP’s Champion Hurdle contenders. We’re starting with the Fighting Fifth which Buveur D’air won a couple of times, Binocular won a couple of times, and Epatante has, so I see no reason to branch away from the tried and tested route. It’s a Grade One, it’s a good prize.
She was electric in it last year and then things went wrong. We’ve corrected quite a few bits and pieces of her anatomy. She’s had back surgery as well, which has always been an issue with her. At Newcastle, you won’t see anything quicker or shaper than she was, but after that she didn’t hurdle with her old proficiency and that’s what we hope we’ve sorted out. If she’s jumping really well, then you know she’s really well.
She’s a fascinating mare. She came over in the Spring and I have to say I thought she was the slowest horse I’ve ever seen! I could watch her start galloping, go for breakfast and come back to watch her finish. Anyway, we gave her a run first time out and she was second. I was really pleased and then she won twice, really nicely.
She’s not badly handicapped, so I’d be interested to see how much further she could go over hurdles and see if she is at least a Listed mare. To get her some black type would be a priority, but she could jump fences tomorrow. I’d quite like to give her one run over hurdles anyway, just to see if she belongs in that category because she might just be quite high (in the handicap). If so, we’ll just go chasing.
He is another one of those that could be anything. He has run twice and won twice. He is very, very well. He is never going to run on fast ground but would go on anything else. He might benefit from another half a mile, we have got to try and split them up somehow.
It is very hard to place these horses, the higher-rated but not quite top-rated horses. He might not be a Grade One horse, but he is definitely a Grade Two or Three horse. The likes of the Peterborough Chase would be good for him.
He’ll go straight over fences, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a beautiful horse, and he wasn’t built for hurdle races. He’s had a little wind operation, which I think did stop him the last time. He’s ready to go straight over fences. We have schooled him and he’s very good.
Nicky Henderson has a strong team of novice hurdlers this season which includes Hob House who "could be very special"
He could be very special. We gave him one bumper run and he is a very big horse. He was quite raw last year, quite wild when he started, but he has settled down a lot. He is very amenable now. He could be anything.
I Am Maximus
After winning a Cheltenham bumper in October last year, he went back to Henrietta Knights for a bit of a break. Then he came back in and he didn’t try for a moment and things went wrong. Then, we were all ready to go, but I couldn’t see Aintree being the right place for him and Cheltenham certainly wasn’t, so it ended up he didn’t run. He is working, he jumps beautifully, so it is just straight over hurdles.
I hope he will lose this price tag thing sooner rather than later in life, because every time he runs everyone starts saying what he cost. That is a tag he has got to live with, it is not his fault.
He has grown into a magnificent horse through the summer. He’d had a tough time when he came over, he ran in his point-to-point, then he came over to the sales and by the time he got back here he didn’t look great. We put him back together quite quickly, which was a credit to him. He took a fair bit of time to settle down, he doesn’t like new things, they fuss him. He has got to stick to his routine and now he is back on it, he is loving it. He jumps beautifully, he was so well educated at home.
I wasn’t going to run him in that bumper if I didn’t think he was capable of winning. I wasn’t going to make a fool out of myself or him. It was a relief to see him do it so easily, but not a surprise. He has got everything – he is a full brother to Douvan, he has got speed, he has got jumping ability, he goes on any ground, although I am not going to run him on fast ground.
He has done plenty, we have had no hiccups, but I have not been in any great rush because of the weather. You can imagine where he is going to start, in one of those Newbury type novice hurdles that we have used for most of them.
I like him a lot. I think he is probably one of the nicest horses we have had for The Queen for a long time. I am also glad to say Keen On is back in action who missed last year, and I was also very, very keen on him. We have got a very nice team for Her Majesty - she has had a wonderful Flat season so let’s hope we can continue the jumping one.
I think he’s good, there’s no doubt about it. His first run was very good the year before last, and then we ran him at Huntingdon where he just never ever stopped for breath. It was crazy, so we just had to go right back to the drawing board last year and teach him to settle.
We had to have one run right at the back of the field at Sandown, and unsurprisingly he flew home, which was good and what we wanted to see. Then he ran well all the way through last season, but he is a good horse who’s been crying out for fences, so this is where it all happens. He’s already schooled, he’s very good and it will be disappointing if he wasn’t near the top.
I think the sooner we try him over three miles the better. Where and when, I am not quite sure. He is a good ground horse, so we need to get on with it. He came in a bit later then some, but he is catching up well now. The King George is definitely a possibility. He will be ready to go in three weeks, so it is just a matter of where we go first.
Mot A Mot
That was amazing at Chepstow (when he won). It was amazing horsemanship from James Bowen because his right rein broke before they had even past the winning post with a circuit to go. I think he is pretty good, but he was very disappointing at Aintree.
No Ordinary Joe
He’s a big, solid horse. He’s very strong and robust, a proper winter chaser.
Has Nicky Henderson got the next Shishkin or Altior lurking among his novice chasers? Find out what the Seven Barrows handler has to say about his exciting prospects
He’ll definitely go chasing, he’s purely a chaser. I’d be very disappointed if he doesn’t turn out to be ten times better than he was over hurdles. I think he’s a lovely horse. He’s only just came back in this week but he’s very big and very strong.
Unfortunately, he had a tendon injury last year. He has had an injury now which has been holding him up for a couple of months, but hopefully he’ll be back.
I would have gone novice chasing with him this season, because he’s the most spectacular jumper, but he won’t be back in time for a full season over fences. So, I think we’ll just concentrate on hurdles for now and then go novice chasing in the spring. It’ll be great to see him back, he’s very good.
He has had one run and was impressive. He is a lovely big horse by Sholokhov. He is a massive chasing type. He will go through his novice hurdle season and could be anything, he is in the top drawer anyway.
He has summered remarkably well, because he has grown. The first time I went to see him in the field after he had been out for about three weeks, I got the wrong horse, I thought it was Altior. He has grown into a bigger and stronger model altogether, it is extraordinary. Him and Chantry House are both the same, I have never seen horses grow like it.
We did have to stop and do a little operation. I was just a bit suspicious at the end (of last season) and we were just listening to him when he started cantering and it just seemed that we better attend to a little breathing problem, there was no point in waiting, it was easier to just get it done. We are on track for the Tingle Creek.
He’s going over fences, I think he is going to want 3 miles. He jumps very well, and he gallops.
Walking On Air
He is gorgeous, a mighty big machine. He is out of a very good mare called Refinement, that Michael Tabor owned himself, so he is a homebred. He is a gorgeous, gorgeous horse. Of all the horses that should have won a bumper, it was him. He went to win his bumper at Kempton, went clear and an Authorized gelding of Gary Moore’s (Shallwehaveonemore) came passed him like nothing on earth. He did nothing wrong, he is just a lovely horse.
He was a big, weak tall horse last year and he really wasn’t ready for anything much more than just the one run, but he did it very well at Doncaster.
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