Nicky Henderson Stable Tour: The low-down on his main hopes

Nicky Henderson poses with Altior at his annual Cheltenham media day at Seven Barrows.
Nicky Henderson poses with Altior at his annual Cheltenham media day at Seven Barrows.

We've picked out the best quotes from Nicky Henderson's Cheltenham media day, as he discusses the chances of each of his big stars at the Cheltenham Festival, including Altior, Shishkin and Santini...

On Altior; his campaign so far, and his chances in the Champion Chase...

"It's all going well at the moment, he's in good form and has had a couple of quiet weeks since Newbury. If you take it as his first run of the year, which you have to really, it was perfect. The disaster was the first run of the year, which was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong ground at the wrong trip!

"If there wasn’t for being so much hype about the race, and there being so much build up, I should’ve been a spoiled sport and taken him out on the morning of the race, but you couldn’t because everyone was looking forward to it. Altior was exhausted and there was no question about a run at Christmas.

"It’s a very good Champion Chase, and it will be a seriously good race. But he’s fresh and well and the better the ground the better we’ll be as the other two probably handle soft better than we do, so he’ll need to be sharp and at his best."

On Shishkin, and getting off to the perfect start in the Supreme...

"Shishkin would be one of our best chances; he’s looked very good so far and it’s a nice race to win if you can as it gets the ball rolling and the pressure’s off a bit. 

"He’s got to prove himself and this will be a much bigger test than he’s had but he’s been visually very impressive in all three starts. He doesn’t seem to lack experience - he races very professionally - and you can press a button and it works.

"I think he is very good, though Joe Donnelly has also got Asterion Forlonge. I spoken to him and he's perfectly happy to race them - he’d be delighted to finish first and second, so I hope they finish in the right order!"

On Champ, and his progress since his fall in the Dipper Novices' Chase in January...

"Champ’s in very good form. He’ll have a racecourse gallop, we’ve been doing lots of schooling and he’s going great. I would have run him again if we could have done - we were going to go to Kelso but that was off - and the only other option is a three-mile race at Chepstow, which is hardly a way to get one ready in heavy ground.

"He is going to go and jump some fences away, but he’s been in great form, he schooled last week and he is going to have an away day as well. He had a sore shoulder after the Dipper but he was fine soon after."

On Pym, who could face Champ in the RSA Chase...

"The ground on Saturday was horrible and he couldn’t get out of it. He’s not robust like Champ or Santini, and I think he just got stuck - Nico said he couldn’t jump out of it. I wouldn’t see any reason why not to go for the RSA and you’ve got to write off the run, because up to then he’d done nothing wrong. 

Cheltenham Festival Tips

On having a five-strong team for the Champion Hurdle...

"They wouldn’t go there if I didn’t think they were realistic hopes, and if you only had one you’d still be going in hoping. 

"We’ll probably have a game in the yard where we name the order they finish in, and I suspect nobody will get it right and I’ll get the prize!"

On Pentland Hills' form so far this season...

"I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, and at Cheltenham I can excuse him because it was bad ground and when he came to win his race he just didn’t quite get up the hill first time out. That you can certainly forgive, but you have so say at Haydock he came there so easily it was a bit disappointing that he actually just got caught, but he still ran a very good race in horrible ground.

"We have cautered his pallet since Haydock, but that isn’t because we’re hearing any noises - I doubt it will make any difference - but there’s been something there. It may make no difference whatsoever, but it’s just an effort to make sure everything is in place. He worked very well on Saturday and appears in great form. They call it a wind op, but it’s non invasive and it takes five days, is just a tightening of the screw, really. 

"He wants to switch off a bit more, so I think we’ll drop him in a little bit more than we have done, but he’s such a good jumper and he takes you there a lot of the time."

On Fusil Raffles...

"We weren’t going to go to Wincanton in that ground, and we’ll go to Kempton if it’s rearranged. He’ll only run there if it’s very good ground, otherwise I’m perfectly happy to go down the racecourse gallop route with him. Nothing came to light after his run at Kempton - he was very disappointing and I’d like to run him again."

On Epatante, and how she was affected by the equine flu outbreak last year...

"She went to Kempton and I didn’t think after Christmas that she needed to do anything else, so she’ll go back to Kempton (for a racecourse gallop). 

"She disappointed at the Festival last year, but there were four or five that didn’t turn up as they should have done and with all of them I’d have said it was probably the flu vaccination. I read in places she can only go on flat tracks, but I don’t think off run you can think that when you consider that the vaccination knocked her sideways and at the moment I’ve no worries.

"You’re right to say that this time last year I thought she was one of our best chances, but I can name four or five others who were definitely affected."

On Mister Fisher, and where he'll likely head at Cheltenham...

"I would have thought the Marsh Novices' Chase - I'd be surprised if we didn’t - but we’ll definitely have a look a the Arkle. There doesn’t seem to be anything in England blatantly obvious for that race, and we might find that the two and a half is stronger and in which case I’d drop him back - I wouldn’t be frightened to. It could be a late decision, as he wants the best ground that you can get him."

On Might Bite, and sending him to the Cross Country Chase...

"We were just messing around the other day trying to get his mojo back. Nico hopped on his back and he hopped over some plastic hurdles, before turning around and going over some fences before some poles and then all sorts of strange things. Newbury was a good step in the back direction and I’ve just been letting him do his own thing. You have to practice over Cheltenham's cross country course (to be able to race), and I’d like to do that twice."

On Beware The Bear, and whether he'll defend his crown in the Ultima...

The plan for him is the Grand National, so he'll run in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster and then head straight to Aintree. Ok Corral will go straight there, too - he could go to a racecourse for a gallop, but I doubt we’d run him again.

On Santini...

Everything is going well with Santini. He should be a better horse than he was last year because he’s just a big old-fashioned chaser from the old mould. He needs a good run for the next few weeks and that’s all we ask for. 

Keep your eyes peeled on our YouTube channel for an exclusive chat with Nicky Henderson, which will be uploaded in the next couple of days. 

The Cheltenham Festival
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