Trainer Nicky Henderson invited the press to an open day at his Seven Barrows stable earlier this week and it was impossible not to be impressed by the wealth of talent on display heading into the sport's centrepiece meeting, the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
Henderson is aiming around “35-40” at the festival in March and, with several of these already priced up as market leader for their respective targets, he is understandably a short-priced favourite to be the leading trainer over the four days, but what are the chances of repeating last season's feat of seven winners?
That's as many winners as he has Barrows and he's already got one 'penalty kick' lined up in the shape of Sprinter Sacre, who is trading at a very short price for the Champion Chase, having looked all but invincible in his seven chase starts. Asked if the horse was the best he'd trained, he said: “I don't know about that, but he's hugely talented; it's phenomenal natural talent. Certainly, Sprinter and Simonsig [his leading Arkle Trophy hope] are two of the best horses I've seen.”
That's praise indeed when you consider he has been operating at the top table for over 30 years and he is now firmly established as the festival trainer par excellence. Having made his name with hurdlers at the festival in the early years – he broke his duck when See You Then won the 1985 Champion Hurdle, with that horse going on to land a hat-trick of successes in that championship race – he is now just as successful with chasers and his chasing team this year looks as strong as ever.
In addition to the two horses already mentioned, he will be firing two arrows at chasing's blue riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with both Bobs Worth and Long Run set to represent him. The latter has already been there, done it and has got the t-shirt, having won the 2011 version, and he ran well again in it last season when third. He's hardly gone backwards since either with his latest racecourse outing resulting in a second King George win.
Bobs Worth has yet to run in the race but is unbeaten in four starts at the track and while he's not been since in public since winning the Hennessy at Newbury, you can bank on Henderson having him cherry ripe for this assignment, with the trainer saying: “He's very much on schedule. He's won an RSA [Chase] and a Hennessy, but he probably needs to improve again. However, he does love Cheltenham.”
One thing's for sure, it will take a good one to lower their colours at Cheltenham in March and it's not beyond the realms of possibility they'll come home first and second. Indeed, with so many other good horses set to represent him, you wouldn't bet against another Henderson seven-timer, although the trainer is less ambitious, saying in his typical self-effacing style: “I've no chance. Somebody said the other day I must be joking about that, but, honestly, I'd settle for one winner.”
Article written by Nick Wilby from Cheltenhamfestival.net.