It must be February. At this time of year the assembled throng of journalists (TV, radio, internet, and print), all head off to the top stables to talk to the trainers about their hopes and dreams ahead of the Cheltenham festival, though with the straightforward quotes and facts reproduced elsewhere, I like to do things a little differently and try to read the body language to ascertain a small edge if at all possible.
On Tuesday we all headed off to Seven Barrows to chat to the recently married Nick Henderson who seemed in a good mood and happy to chat fairly openly – but nothing new there for a man with most of the Cheltenham records to his name and frankly, nothing left to prove.
To start with (straight after the sausage baps which were most welcome in the cold wind), we went through what many would call the glaringly obvious but do not shoot the messenger, I can only report on what I am told! First on the short list was Buveur D’Air who Nicky told us (tongue in cheek) WILL win the Champion Hurdle, though that will come as no surprise to most. He does apparently take a lot of work to get him to his peak with Nicky seemingly worried that even after three races this season he hasn’t really had a hard race and he seems all set to head to Kempton for a gallop on Saturday to continue to put an edge on him. Nicky told us all that “Buveur D’Air’s greatest asset is his jumping – he is so quick it is frightening. He measures them so – it is like hurdles in athletics – absolute precision”. Nicky seemed to me to acknowledge that although very very good he needs to win this to cement his place with the greats but I did get the feeling he was a touch concerned that he gets so close to his hurdles. That a fall is not an impossibility (God forbid that happening though for the race and his much loved owner J P McManus), something which does need to be factored in to any punter’s thinking. You can find all of our Champion Hurdle tips and thoughts now.
On to the Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Altior next, and I got the feeling that anyone daring to question his abilities would get a glare that would quickly turn them to stone. Clearly the apple of his trainer’s eye, he has done nothing wrong and has a rock solid constitution, hardly putting on any weight during his post wind-operation box rest. He has always looked a machine and so it seems with his trainer saying “ When he is cantering, he finds everything so easy. He is just actually different class”, with the implication that just like Buveur D’Air who switched to hurdles from fences, Altior could do exactly the same and won’t be far away if sent for a Champion Hurdle. However, if it’s Queen Mother Champion Chase tips that your looking for then you can find ours online now.
Might Bite was the third of the three big-guns but he didn’t really seem to set off the sparkle in his trainer’s eyes that I expected. He is confident he will stay the three and a quarter miles plus of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and reminded us that he got going again after idling in front when taking the King George at Kempton and non-stayers simply do not and cannot do that. He reports he is working far better this season than last and is clearly maturing and he certainly has a decent chance but this is Cheltenham and the buzz about his chances just seemed to be missing to me, leaving other stable representatives with better chances at the prices. Our thoughts and Cheltenham Gold Cup tips are on the website for you to read now.
Those backing Apple’s Shakira for the Triumph may like to know that her participation is not 100% certain just yet with Nicky saying ”I’m pretty sure that Apple’s Shakira will run in the Triumph Hurdle. I can’t promise that, but talking to Frank (Berry, J P McManus’ racing manager), that looks likely”. Nicky also added that he was looking forward to seeing her on good ground and tagged We Have A Dream in to that comment, who will most likely join her and could well be the better value of the two at current odds. You can read our thoughts and Triumph Hurdle tips by clicking the link.
Enough of the glaringly obvious that everyone wants to know about and what could we dig out from the master about his other Cheltenham runners, the ones the majority of the journalists present will have ignored?
Brain Power – Arkle Challenge Trophy – Nicky clearly thinks an awful lot of him and pointed out that he is the forgotten horse for this contest. He has had a minor wind operation which resulted in five days of box rest and can be forgiven a poor run at Ascot when he choked hence the palate operation, but Nicky described him as “……a very talented horses – seriously talented” and at the prices he needs to at least be considered. See our Arkle Challenge Trophy tips here.
Claimantakinforgan – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – He is a decent sort who may well be the best of the stable novices though Nicky doesn’t seem overly excited about them this year so that may not be saying too much. If you’re looking for pointers or our Supreme Novices’ Hurdle tips you can find them online now.
Divine Spear – JLT Novices’ Chase – Although never really going in to detail his name cropped up on more than one occasion while discussing other runners. Better than he looked last time out at Musselburgh when the race didn’t go according to plan and an each way option perhaps. Click for our JLT Novices’ Chase tips now.
Terrefort – RSA Chase – May well miss Cheltenham as things stand but well regarded by his trainer after two out of two over fences since arriving from France. May run if the ground gets soft enough but as things stand that seems unlikely so if you’re looking for RSA Chase tips that are likely to run you may be better to check out ours online.
L’Ami Serge – Stayers’ Hurdle – Very decent at his best and surprisingly a double figure price for this event. In good form at home and very much on target but again, with his trainer not seeming as confident as I would have hoped about his chances it may be best to look elsewhere for your Stayers’ Hurdle tips.