Day Two of the Cheltenham media tour and it was off to the Nicky Henderson stable on Wednesday morning to talk through some of his better fancied runners and see if we could read between the lines in our never-ending search for winners and profit.
As always we were greeted like long lost friends with a smile and a joke with Nicky the ultimate showman as well as the leading trainer of all time at the Cheltenham Festival, which makes for a pretty potent combination. Fifty-five successes is already impressive at the meeting they all aim their best horses at, and that number seems sure to be increased this season with Arkle contender Altior our obvious starting point. Unbeaten over fences he has already stepped out of novice grade to win the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury and although a very short price, a winner is a winner. Nicky told us all “I was very confident about Altior at this time last year. I think he has transferred his ability to chasing and not made many mistakes. The one nice thing is that he has learnt from his two mistakes in four runs – he has done everything right. One’s only thought is, goodness, what price would he be for the Champion Hurdle if we were still going down the hurdling road? The big question at the moment is will we dare switch him to take on Douvan in the Champion Chase. No, we won’t. We want to win the Arkle, that is the objective and that is where he will stay”, so hopefully that puts all of those rumours to bed for the moment at least.
As for the Champion hurdle, Nicky has three serious contenders in Buveur D’Air, Brain Power, and My Tent Or Yours and although all three have serious chances on paper, the body language suggested Buveur D’Air may come out on top this season at least. Nicky told us “This Stan James Champion Hurdle is particularly open and you can see why we have brought back Buveur D’Air from chasing. It was not because he was doing anything wrong over fences but because we thought there is more to come over hurdles. This was before Faugheen was taken out of the Champion Hurdle. “Altior was always going for the Arkle so Buveur D’Air would have found it difficult to beat him in that race. It seemed an obvious thing really.” Although that sounds good he seems equally as happy with Brain Power who will be even better on a faster surface and reminded us all that My Tent Or Yours is in good form at home as well and there might not be much between the three of them which is an enviable position to be in.
Might Bite came in for a very positive mention ahead of a probable tilt at the RSA Chase and he is another that the trainer seems pretty keen on, feeding him carrots to stop him living up to his name and taking a chunk out of his handler. He has a ridiculously high cruising speed which actually makes him look one paced and he would have won easily at Kempton before crashing out at the last but seemed to have learned from that mistake last time out at Doncaster with an effortless distance win after his nearest pursuer fell at the thirteenth and with Nicky suggesting he will be even better if given a lead, with Irish challenger Acapella Bourgeois nominated for that role the race could be run to suit him and he fully deserves his current place at the head of the ante post market.
With plenty of the scribes in attendance wandering off now the stars had been and gone we waited around to see what else we could find, and we may well have exposed some diamonds worthy of serious consideration. Verdana Blue won at Taunton on Tuesday and is entered in the Mares’ Novice hurdle on the Thursday and Nicky seems to like her a lot though on paper she has plenty to find while he really really likes Charli Parcs, who will hopefully win the Adonis Hurdle on Saturday after which he will head to either the Triumph Hurdle or the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that opens the card, with the trainer keener on the first named given the choice.
Three more horses to mention and he seemed particularly keen to run Daphne Du Clos in the bumper, a race he rarely if ever targets, so possibly a hint in itself. She has won two of her three starts so the ability is there for all to see and with her age and sex allowance may well get weight all round. With her trainer confidently seeing her as the ideal sort for the race, she is another dark horse worthy of some serious consideration.
Different Gravy is in to run Saturday at Kempton and if he goes well he may head off for the JLT Chase. His jumping fell apart last time at Cheltenham but apparently he seems back to his best on the schooling grounds and if that is the case, there are worse each way options out there both this weekend and at Cheltenham. To round things off, forgotten star Peace And Co got a mention and if all goes to plan, he will head to Sandown for the Imperial Cup and then head to Cheltenham for the County Hurdle. A very good horse at his best, winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2015, he has only raced three times since and was pulled up behind Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle last season when tailed off. The implication was that he may be coming back to something like his true form at last, and if that is the case then he may well find handicap company much more to his liking and at a big price he is another worthy of at least some consideration at the very least.