Cheltenham Festival News

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival: Your essential Nicky Henderson Stable Tour

By Harry Allwood@harry_allwood
Thu 25 Feb 2021

Nicky Henderson has trained 68 Cheltenham Festival winners and provided the lowdown on 26 of his likely contenders at Prestbury Park in March during a zoom call on Thursday, hosted by The Jockey Club.


Coral Cup

Allart had a fall at Haydock, which was very frustrating. He didn’t do a lot wrong, but on that very deep ground he overpitched. He would be interesting if he came in here, but we’re not having the cleanest time with him at the moment – so I’ll have to sit on the fence as far as his participation would be concerned.


Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Altior could not be better and I’m very, very happy. His whole demeanour is in a better place than he has been this year. It hasn’t been easy and having looked invincible, luck hasn’t gone his way.

He raced very lazily and lacked his usual sharpness and accuracy at Kempton over Christmas. It was a pity Newbury had to go back a week and took us off our step a little bit. He takes his races quite hard and the feeling was that having closed it down to three weeks and two days, we were not going to run him in the Game Spirit.

As it turned out, the ground was very good at Newbury and we probably could have done but it enabled us to switch Champ and although it was quite an odd thing to do I am pleased it went that way.

Altior went off with Mister Fisher and had a good gallop, jumping fences. They were both in good form and it all went very well. I am very happy with where Altior is. He will have one more bit of work here and he is fit and seems very well. Chacun Pour Soi and plenty of others will be there but he is still there and will be sharper this time. There will be a battle and I am looking forward to it.

One has to remember he is 11 now and is on 11-year-old legs. He has done very little wrong. One or two things have conspired against us and I have to go back to the race at Ascot last over 2m 5f on heavy ground against Cyrname.

Actually I would have a pound that even Paul (Nicholls) is slightly regretting it too as I think it bottomed both horses – they have both struggled to get back from that race. I would have given all the tea in China not to have run that day but I couldn’t have taken him out as everybody had been waiting for this clash but we stupidly went for it as our first run of the season. It did neither of them any good and both horses were struggling after.

But I am not struggling with Altior at the moment – he is good. It was a miracle when Sprinter Sacre came back and I don’t think you can hope for two miracles! If Altior won it would be very special. He has been a fantastic horse to have had.

I think it [the application of headgear] is something to be considered. It is something we have discussed. We have eliminated the Ryanair Chase as an option so we might look at something to try and sharpen him up over two miles.


Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

He could well run at Hereford on Sunday over three miles. We think that’s what he wants and he’d have to do something spectacular there but he’s very capable of it. I was very impressed with him the first time he ran, so he’ll be at Cheltenham one day for sure.


Unibet Champion Hurdle

I actually think Buveur D’Air has been forgotten. He’s out with the washing at the moment (in the betting), whereas Epatante is sharing the favourite line with Honeysuckle and Goshen now as well.

It’s going to be very competitive.


Coral Cup

I would think there would be a definite possibility that Buzz could come into this. There was no doubt in the Betfair Hurdle that both of our horses – Buzz and Mister Coffey – found it too quick.

I’ve always felt that Buzz races as if another half a mile would help him and I would think there’s every possibility he would come into this.

If I run all 14 in here it would only leave room for another 10 to run! The ones I think are more likely to run here are Buzz, Craigneiche, and Monte Cristo.


Paddy Power Plate

This is definitely the objective for Carribean Boy. When he’s good, he’s very good, like he was first time out at Newbury. I think I made a couple of mistakes with him since. We ran him back too quickly after the Newbury race, where he was very impressive. If we can get back to the right trip on the right ground, and we see the horse from Newbury, we’re in with a good shout.


WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup

It was an extraordinary performance in the RSA last year, reminiscent of dear old Might Bite. I was watching what was going on up front, but then he came back into sight and swept by them. That proved one thing – his stamina.

When we brought him in earlier this season, he was loose-schooling at Henrietta Knight’s and we could hear a noise we’d never heard before. It makes me wonder whether it had anything to do with what happened last year. Round about the second-last is where it could catch you out. It’s just a Henderson theory.

The Cotswold Chase was his alternative, but we thought that was better for Santini, certainly in that (soft) ground, then Champ would have come in for the Denman at Newbury – on the original weekend.

The move back a week, as commendable as it was, just interfered with plans and we decided against Altior running. Sometimes crazy ideas come into your head in the middle of the night and it occurred to me that three miles, first time out, three weeks and five days before his objective, put him in the ‘bounce factor’ bracket.

He’s an extraordinary horse because a week before the race he was working with On The Blind Side, a three-mile hurdler who isn’t good enough for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s not a good work horse, but it took Champ all day to get to him.

My assistant, Charlie Morlock, said he didn’t exactly look like a horse to run over two miles, but Champ at home and Champ on a racecourse... you wouldn’t know it was the same horse as he does nothing at home.

I was hoping we’d see what we saw as my head was on the chopping block for this ridiculous idea if it didn’t work. It worked because he could do it, but I didn’t know where he’d finish. It went well and his jumping at that pace was exceptional. We all came away very happy and he has been fine since.


Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

He found jumping fences quite hard last year, and we had to school, school and school. It was difficult, we just brought him back over hurdles for a couple of runs and he went to Haydock the other day for the last Pertemps qualifier. It was the last throw of the dice and he ran a very good race to finish second on very soft ground.

He does go through flat spots, and I suspect cheekpieces might come back on for this. He did okay and finished well, so we’re thinking and hoping that Cheltenham will be a better track for him.


Marsh Novices' Chase

I was very pleased with Chantry House at Wetherby the other day. He was very impressive first time out at Ascot, and if you go back to last year he was a very good third in the Supreme, and we always felt he needed further. Ascot isn’t a place I would often choose for first time out novice chasers, but he was very good and won well.

We then went to Cheltenham, and he was very disappointing and completely forgot his jumping. He had a bit of surgery on his back and he did really well because Wetherby was only eight weeks after we’d corrected his back, so that was a pretty quick turnaround. I thought he jumped beautifully and travelled very well on horrible ground. He stays, touch wood he jumps, and the only problem is Envoi Allen!


Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle

We were a bit short of opportunities with Dame De Compagnie so we had to throw her into a Grade One (over fences), which was a bit of a baptism really. I think she’s very likely to come back over hurdles for this, and she’s in very good form.

The fall did her no harm, and I don’t see why she shouldn’t come back over hurdles. She showed in the Coral Cup that two and a half miles is her trip and I think it’s a good call.

We can always go back over fences, and she’s not ready for the Mares’ Chase as yet. JP has the favourite for that (Elimay), so we’re just trying to split the troops.


National Hunt Chase/ Brown Advistory Novices’ Chase

He’s never been an easy person, but he had one run over fences at Newbury and ran very well and jumped well. He really needs to back it up again and is in a few, but he might well get a run again before the Festival – and will probably need to.


Unibet Champion Hurdle

Kempton was disappointing because she was very, very good in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. Christmas just didn’t go her way, she wasn’t herself, but fair play to the winner Silver Streak, who was very good and set a proper test, and we were at no stage really in a position to have a crack at him.

We have a few things ironed out I hope because obviously she is better than that but Silver Streak was very good on the day and we weren’t - but I think we’re back in the right place now.

Newcastle was a bit of a mess because Silver Streak was taken out with another early on and that emptied the race a fair bit, but take nothing away from her, she was very impressive. She picked up Sceau Royal who was leading to the last and she went past him with so much class.

She looked wonderful there, and if we’ve got her back there, she’s got as good a chance as any.


Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle

I’m pretty keen to run her and she’s always struck me as if an extra half a mile would help her. She’s been running very well in graded races at two miles, but we’ve always felt that two and a half would suit her.


Marsh Novices’ Chase

I spoke to Anthony Bromley who manages Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horses, and he will go for the Marsh (with Fusil Raffles). I’ve always felt that two and a half was what he wanted, but he’s actually finished at two miles all the time and he has been a star this season, I must admit.

It was only one start in very heavy ground at Cheltenham (that caught him out) and I’m absolutely certain he wants two and a half. You do have problems in doing that, as you bump into one of the Irish bankers of the week in Envoi Allen. He’s got to be taken on and I think with Chantry House and Fusil we’ve got two shots at him.


Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

I think he’s lovely, and he ran a very good race although he got defeated the other day. I’ve spoken to Mike Grech (owner) and we’ve discussed it, and I think Cheltenham is for another year for him. He belongs there and I hope his career will be around Cheltenham Festivals, but another year.


JCB Triumph Hurdle

He runs at Warwick tomorrow (Friday February 26) and let’s see how things go. I love the horse and I thought he did well to win at Kempton first time out. He’s got to get more experience and he’s got to be impressive tomorrow, but you’ll never know. I’ve opted for the easier option at Warwick over the Adonis, so let’s wait and see.


Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

Mengli Khan is an entertaining character. I think there’s every chance he would run and he’s a two-miler. He likes to bowl along, but this would be fast and furious.


Ryanair Chase

I’d like to think he’s got a very good shout. He went away with Altior earlier this week and his jumping has been very good. He won the Peterborough Chase, which was moved from Huntingdon to Cheltenham, and put up a first-class performance.

He would very much like good ground. If he gets some decent ground, I think he’ll be very competitive.


Ultima Handicap Chase

The latest is that they (Ok Corral and Pym) are both Grand National bound, all going well. I need to get a run into Ok Corral very shortly. We’re going well now, he’s never been the easiest horse to train, and I’d prefer to have it before Cheltenham – so in both cases this is a back-up in case we haven’t had a run before that and this would be a last opportunity to run before the National.


Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

He was very disappointing at Doncaster. That was left-handed, and he visited every pub, hotel and car park in Doncaster on his way round the other day and had no steering whatsoever, so I can’t see Cheltenham being the right place for him at the moment.


Ultima Handicap Chase

Pym is rated quite a lot lower over hurdles, so I’m quite tempted to come into the National on the back of a hurdle run [rather than run in the Ultima].


WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup

Santini has had a difficult season. He started at Aintree when it was essentially a Flat race when they took the fences out. He’s a huge horse, he ran a very good race that day and, in fact, Frodon was behind him.

We had no intention of running him in the King George, but there was just too much of a gap between Aintree and the Cotswold. He’s not a horse that sits still, he loves racing.

Not surprisingly he found the track sharper than ideal, but it was still a good exercise for him. Then the Cotswold Chase was off, Sandown took it on, but the ground was desperate. I was satisfied with him in third.

Champ’s run was obviously more eyecatching than Santini’s as he was running over the wrong trip. I’m very happy with Santini as it’s been a difficult winter with him. It’s not as if he’s coming in off three wins, but this is what he’s been waiting for.

Aidan Coleman will ride Santini in the Gold Cup, with Nico de Boinville on Champ.


Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase

It’s amazing how this race has changed. Three or four weeks ago Shishkin was odds-on and everyone was saying it would be boring, but all of a sudden Willie (Mullins) has come along with his two-mile novice (Energumene) and I think Allmankind was impressive again at Warwick.

There’s a real fight on now and I think people are seeing it as one of the big headline clashes of the week. He’s got a couple of bits of work to do and will have another school. Everything is fairly well on course at the moment.


Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

Theinval has been third, fourth and fifth before and he’ll be in there again and is in good form.


Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

I think Verdana Blue has become more versatile than she used to be. She was very speedy and wanted fast ground, but I think funnily enough her Flat season last year told us that she’s staying better and coping with softer ground better – as she was a very close third in the Ebor on soft ground. So she might well be better going up to two and a half.


Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

He comes into this and has been knocking on the door in these competitive handicaps and he could run too.

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