By Andy Stephens at Newbury
Nicky Henderson is leaning marginally towards sending Might Bite straight to the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup without another run but on Wednesday gave the strongest indication yet that Altior could make his belated reappearance in next month’s Betfair Exchange Chase.
The champion trainer outlined plans for his star steeplechasers at Newbury on Wednesday, where he kept up his rich vein of form by saddling a double.
He had a breathing operation in mid-November and Henderson feared he may have to send him to the Cheltenham Festival without the benefit of a run beforehand but his subsequent progress has been good and, one way or another, he should be strutting his stuff on February 10.
Last season, as a novice, he put up a stunning display in the Betfair Exchange Chase, still better known as the Game Spirit Chase, when he won by 13 lengths.
“Altior’s really good and Newbury could still easily be on the agenda,” he said of his dual Cheltenham Festival winner. “He'll be stepping up this weekend, to the point where I suspect I'll nearly know whether I'll hear a noise.
"He'd never made a noise before and wouldn't be making a noise where he is now, but we are nearly getting to the point where he was making one.
“If he’s not quite ready for the Game Spirit (Betfair Exchange Chase) then I’ll be asking Richard (Osgood, the clerk of the course) if he can come and have a gallop here that day.
“He would probably need two racecourse gallops (if he does not have a race) and that would be perfect timing for the first one. So hopefully Newbury will be on agenda one way or another that weekend.”
Might Bite won the King George VI Chase at Kempton last month and is the general 3-1 favourite for the Gold Cup.
He has the Betfair Denman Chase on the same Newbury card as an option but Henderson said: “He’s in great form, but I’d be 49-51 against running him.”
Henderson’s horses are in fantastic form and he was speaking after saddling the first two home in the novices’ hurdle. He also won the closing bumper with The Vicar, a lovely stamp of a horse who prevailed despite drifting to 5-1.
He probably would have been a nationwide gamble had he run on Saturday, the day Henderson married for a second time in Scotland.
The 67-year-old was back at his Seven Barrows base by Monday, plotting running plans at a pivotal part of the season.
“The horses are still winning - they haven’t lost the knack,” he said. “The boys did well over the weekend (Friday and Saturday) and had seven winners in our absence.
“We got back on Monday, since when there has been two and a half foot of snow where we were. Had I been there a day later I might not have been there for a month because you cannot get in or out of the place.”
Available at 8-1 in the betting on Monday, Brain Power is now as short as 5-2 in places but his trainer does not share the optimism of some punters.
“It’s probably a mad thing to be doing and I’ve got no pretensions about beating Un De Sceaux but I want to get him a race where they go a good gallop and that looks guaranteed.
“In my mind it’s the right place to take him and get that jumping experience into him before we run out of time.”
Brain Power won in fine style on his chasing debut but unseated David Mullins at the last, when looking booked for second, in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time. On Saturday, Mullins will be replaced by Nico de Boinville.
Henderson has no qualms about his fencing technique. “He will jump half a dozen fences tomorrow but last week he was fantastic,” he said.
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