Nicky Henderson has not won the Cheltenham Festival Trainer’s title since 2012 when he saddled a record seven winners. Irish trainers Willie Mullins (five times) and Gordon Elliott (twice) have since dominated proceedings, each passing Henderson’s seven winner haul. Henderson is once again expected to lead the British challenge this year as he prepares an assault on all the major prizes.
Shishkin fancied to win Cheltenham Opener
The Lambourn trainer plays one of his strongest cards in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday 10th March. Shishkin fell on his hurdling bow but bounced back with an impressive 11 lengths victory at Newbury in January. He produced an eye-catching burst of speed on the run-in and was immediately made favourite for the Supreme. A wide margin win in a Listed race at Huntingdon over a longer trip gave Henderson options but Henderson has opted for the two-miler.
Epatante then leads a five-strong entry for the Champion Hurdle, a race Henderson has already won seven times. The mare destroyed a good field in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but had to overcome a recent bout of coughing to make the line-up.
Second-favourite Pentland Hills won the Triumph Hurdle last year but has a slight question mark over him. He has not been finishing off his races this season and Henderson is hoping that a minor wind operation has solved the problem. Fusil Raffles, Call Me Lord and Verdana Blue complete the Henderson entries, although the latter will not run in heavy ground.
Altior on target for third Champion Chase
Day 2 sees stable star Altior going for a third consecutive victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Henderson blames himself for getting the horse beaten at Ascot in November, racing over a longer trip on bad ground. Altior’s record 19-race unbeaten run is now in the history books but a third win in this race would equal Badsworth Boy (1983-1985).
All the Cheltenham Festival races are previewed with in-depth analysis on OLBG.com. There are comprehensive statistics, festival pointers and 2020 Cheltenham tips. The site reveals that Henderson’s stable jockey Nico de Boinville was leading rider at the festival in 2019. He has returned a big level stakes profit on all rides at the meeting since 2015.
Champ is another well-backed favourite for Henderson in the RSA Chase. Named after 20 times champion jockey Tony McCoy, the horse blotted his copybook with a fall on this course on New Year’s Day. He had the race sewn up at the time of his departure and remains the one to beat. Thursday looks like the quietest day of the week for the yard, although Mister Fisher will carry plenty of support in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
Santini vying for favouritism in the Gold Cup
Henderson won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Long Run (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013). His hopes this season rest with Santini, the winner of the Cotswold Chase at the end of January. He is a dour staying type by Milan and wore down the consistent Bristol De Mai on the run-in. Soft ground would play to his strengths but there is a particularly strong Irish challenge this year.
The stable will also have multiple entries in the big handicaps throughout the festival. Lanzarote Hurdle winner Burrows Edge is entered for the Coral Cup along with the well-backed Birchdale and Dame De Compagnie. Other runners to note during the week include Chantry Bridge (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle), Floressa (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle) and Might Bite (Cross Country Chase).