Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team – Main hopes of Seven Barrows
Brian Healy picks out five top stars from the Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team who might be worth keeping onside for their respective Festival assignments.
Second only to Willie Mullins as the most successful trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, Seven Barrows maestro Nicky Henderson will send another formidable team to the Cotswolds for the upcoming greatest show on turf.
Henderson’s haul of Cheltenham Festival wins includes six Champion Hurdles, four Champion Chases and two Gold Cups amongst his current tally of 60 successes at the greatest show on turf and only the brave would bet against the Seven Barrows maestro adding to that score over the four days of the Festival where he will have runners in most – if not all – of the 28 races scheduled to go to post.
Brian Healy looks at the pick of the Seven Barrows trainer’s equine riches and picks out five top stars from the Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team who many punters will be hoping can collect a big prize at the Cheltenham Festival and perhaps see Henderson crowned Cheltenham Festival top trainer for a sixth year.
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL TOP TRAINER TIPS – BETTING SPECIAL
SHISHKIN (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
A first hurdle aside on his debut over timber at Newbury in December, Shishkin has leapt to the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which gets the Cheltenham Festival underway on Tuesday.
The Sholokhov gelding has been impressive in demolishing rivals in starts at Newbury and Huntingdon latest in Listed company and there’s surely plenty more in the locker given the manner in which he won last time out.
This would be a real acid test stepping into a Grade One on just his third start, but the yard knows what it takes to win the Festival opener and he has looked something special in his two outings over hurdles thus far.
It’s little wonder that he is one of the leading lights in the intended Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team where hopes are high that he can get the Seven Barrows camp off to a winning start despite facing stiff opposition.
EPATANTE (Champion Hurdle)
The No Risk At All mare was considered one of the Cheltenham Festival bankers twelve months ago when lining up in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. However Epatante fluffed her lines badly on that ocacsion and trailed home almost ten lengths’ ninth behind winner Eglantine Du Seuil.
She had looked potentially top-class prior to that defeat which her trainer put down to a bad reaction to an equine ‘flu jab and she has bounced back this term in no uncertain terms to easily land big prizes at Newbury and Kempton respectively.
The latter of those came in the Christmas Hurdle where she impressively struck by five lengths over Silver Streak. She is 4-5 over hurdles and she won a French Grade One bumper prior to joining the Seven Barrows yard so is clearly a hugely talented mare.
Of all of the possible Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team, she is perhaps the one who has been talked about most – even moreso than Altior – and she could prove a tough nut to crack come the Tuesday feature although there may be a lingering doubt still in punters’ minds over her failure to deliver at the Festival last year.
ALTIOR (Champion Chase)
The irrepresible Altior bounced back from his defeat behind Cyrname in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot in November to regain winning ways in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. The High Chaparral gelding will head to Cheltenham with confidence renewed after seeing his previously unbeaten record dented at Ascot and having righted that wrong subsequently.
Now a ten-year old, the dual-Champion Chase winner would be a hugely popular winner should he claim a third successive crown and he regained top spot in the ante-post betting with that Newbury success.
From his win in the race twelve months ago and both starts this term he hasn’t been as flamboyant as in the past, hitting a flat-spot before his change of gear kicks in and he ultimately powers away from rivals. However, he faces some top young talent in Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi amongst others in opposition and he might just prove vulnerable now although he very much remains the stalwart of the Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team and he’s sure to give his all again.
Better ground and a decent pace could see Altior at his very best and there’ll be none stronger up the Cheltenham Hill than the two-time champion.
CHAMP (RSA Chase)
Dual-Grade One winning hurdler who finished second to City Island in last season’s Ballymore Hurdle and 2-3 over fences although there remains some chinks in his armour in that department as he showed when falling at the last in the Dipper Novices’ Chase.
The King’s Theatre gelding had won both previous starts at Newbury, beating Dashel Drasher on debut over fences and then needing to work hard to get the better of Black Op in the Berkshire Novices’ Chase. His jumping wasn’t always perfect and he almost ducked out of the race at the elbow where he hampered the runner-up although Tom George’s charge was getting the worst of the argument.
He had the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Years’ Day at his mercy when appearing to lose concentration and coming to grief two out to hand the victory to Midnight Shadow who has done no harm to that form by running second in the Scilly Isles’ Novices’ Chase.
The King’s Theatre gelding will be a serious contender come the RSA Chase although his jumping will have to cut the mustard taking on top opposition. However, he’s a worthy addition to the Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team where he holds obvious claims of landing this big prize.
SANTINI (Gold Cup)
Beaten in each of the last two Cheltenham Festivals, firstly in the 2018 Albert Bartlett Hurdle and then twelve months ago when narrowly denied in the RSA Chase despite having endured an interrupted preparation.
However, Santini has looked every inch a Gold Cup horse and could well give the Seven Barrows trainer his first Gold Cup winner since Bob’s Worth took the Blue Riband in 2013 having won the RSA Chase twelve months previously.
He is 2-2 over fences this term, digging deep to win on his reappearance at Sandown in November. He then had wind surgery before turning in a defeat of Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January. Despite a hard race he won by the thick end of four lengths, looking particularly strong at the finish as he battled back for the win.
It might not have been a vintage renewal of that Grade Two with the pair almost thirty lengths ahead of third-placed Top Ville Ben, but he likely has even better to come over fences and will arrive at Cheltenham on the back of a much better preparation.
It takes a real stayer to win a Gold Cup and the Milan gelding looks the part. He ticks plenty of boxes ahead of Friday’s Festival showpiece and is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the crown of the Nicky Henderson Cheltenham Festival team for 2020.
That’s not all….
Of course, the Seven Barrows handler has plenty of ammunition throughout the four days of the Festival with the likes of Chantry House (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle), Fusil Raffles and Pentland Hills (Champion Hurdle) and Mister Fisher (Marsh Novices’ Chase) featuring amongst a host of other classy Cheltenham Festival contenders who head to the Cotswolds from Henderson’s Lambourn base with big chances of success and few would back against Nicky Henderson enjoying further Festival glory during this year’s extravaganza.