Cheltenham Festival preview: Nicky Henderson form sparks hopes of a British revival

Nicky Henderson holds a good number of chances at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.Nicky Henderson holds a good number of chances at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.

Nicky Henderson Can Provide a British Revival at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival

Irish Trainers completely dominated the 2021 Cheltenham Festival with a record 23 winners from the 28 races. Two of the five British trained winners came from Nicky Henderson via Shishkin and Chantry Bridge. The veteran trainer has seventy festival winners to his name including eight Champion Hurdles and two Gold Cups. As the 2022 festival approaches, Henderson has hit a rich vein of form including a four-timer at Kempton Park paying 821-1. Hopes of a revival for British trainers will be spearheaded by Henderson as he prepares his team for Cheltenham. We have taken an early look at his likely contenders over the four-day festival.

Henderson looks for flying start in Supreme Hurdle

Henderson has two big guns in line for the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a race he has won four times. Jonbon was replaced at the head of the market by stable companion Constitution Hill after the latter put up an impressive display in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. His 12 lengths victory over Jetoile in heavy ground followed an equally emphatic success on good to soft ground at Sandown. The Punchestown victory of Dysart Dynamo for Willie Mullins will ensure that Henderson does not have it all his own way.

Epatante makes plenty of each-way appeal in the Champion Hurdle at around 12-1. The mare won in great style in 2020 but finished a well-beaten third to Honeysuckle last year. She has since been treated for a back injury and has done nothing wrong in winning the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle this season. The bare form of her dead-heat with Not So Sleepy and two and a quarter lengths win over Glory And Fortune gives her plenty to do but she has enjoyed a better preparation than 12 months’ ago.

Henderson revealed another potential star when Walking On Air strode to a 13 lengths victory at Newbury on 22nd January. Second on his only start in a bumper last season, the son of Walk In The Park was always travelling comfortably and quickened away in good style from the second last flight. The Ballymore is more than half a mile longer but Henderson, obviously mindful of his strong hand in the Supreme, seemed more than happy to take that route. If he follows up in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, he will start a lot shorter than his current odds of 12-1.

Former Gold Cup hope Champ targets Stayers Hurdle

Henderson’s stable star is of course Shishkin who is due to clash with Queen Mother Champion Chase rival Energumene at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase. Events there will determine whether he goes to Cheltenham as a red-hot favourite. Thursday’s big hope for the Lambourn Trainer is Champ who is on course for the Stayers’ Hurdle. A former RSA Chase winner, he was pulled up in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. A comeback win in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot has persuaded Henderson that his best chance of a Cheltenham victory rests over the smaller obstacles, providing he comes through the Cleeve Hurdle successfully.

Chantry House was a bitter disappointment in the King George VI Chase where he was never travelling and pulled up at the twelfth fence. Despite that setback, Henderson is keen for the eight-year-old to take his chance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and he is a top-priced 18-1. He was progressive last season, winning at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Henderson also has the talented but inexperienced Dusart, a possible for the Turners Novices’ Chase on Gold Cup Day, and Mister Fisher in the Ryanair. He will also have plenty of ammunition to fire at the Cheltenham handicaps. First Street, No Ordinary Joe and Call Me Lord are all likely to be given entries. The bookmakers may rate the Prestbury Cup as a foregone conclusion for Ireland but Nicky Henderson will be doing his level best to get Britain back among the festival winners.