Renowned trainer Nicky Henderson rates the chances of his chasers for next week’s Cheltenham Festival in an exclusive interview with Coral, including Queen Mother Champion Chase challenger, Sprinter Sacre.
Formerly the British jump racing Champion Trainer three times in his career, Henderson sat down with Coral to rate the chances of his biggest hopes for Cheltenham Festival success between 10-13 March.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre
One of the most eagerly-anticipated races of the four-day Festival will be Wednesday’s 3.20 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, where Henderson’s 11/4 favourite, Spinter Scare, will go up against the likes of Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy in a fascinating contest.
Onlookers were denied a duel between the pair at Kempton in December 2013, when Sprinter Sacre was pulled up after the seventh fence due to a heart problem. The recovery process appears to have been successful since the setback, Sprinter Sacre since returning and finishing second to Dodging Bullets at Ascot in January earlier this year.
Speaking to Coral, Henderson said of Sprinter Sacre: “All being well, he comes here about as good as we can get him. I’m not going to tell you that it’s the Sprinter of two years ago, because it might well not be, but then again possibly he doesn’t need to be. In that period of his life he was near enough unbeatable.”
Sacre’s biggest rival for Champion Chase honours on Wednesday will undoubtedly be Sire De Grugy, dubbed the ‘Usain Bolt of racing’ by trainer Gary Moore in the build-up to Cheltenham. The French-bred nine-year-old was victorious in the Champion Chase 12 months ago after a demolition job on Somersby and romped away at Chepstow last month for a confident 15th win in 27 runs.
On 10/3 rival Sire De Grugy, Henderson added: “[Chepstow] was a good performance. The Newbury saga was very unfortunate so for Gary it was very brave to come out again, especially in [soft] ground like that. Fair play to them.”
Arkle Trophy – Josses Hill
In Tuesday’s Arkle Trophy meanwhile, Henderson will keep tabs on Josses Hill, the Irish Bay currently 11/1 fourth favourite for success after five wins to his name and a second place at Cheltenham last year in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Pitted against tough opposition such as Un De Sceaux and the Willie Mullins-trained Vautour, Henderson commented: “I’m a big believer in him, he’s in very good form. Some will say his jumping isn’t up to up, but Barry Geraghty says that the faster they go, the better he will jump.
“We’ve been educating him throughout the whole season really. He tends to frighten himself, rather than make mistakes, but then just lacks the courage of his own conviction I think. He has the scope to do it…he just has to believe that he can do it.
“It’s going to test everybody. It’ll be a very tough race. Whoever is keeping track of Un De Sceaux will be going very quickly.”
Ryanair Chase – Ma Filleule
Ma Filleule narrowly missed out on a maiden Cheltenham Festival win 12 months ago, finishing runner-up to Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell by a length and three quarters in the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase.
Henderson feels that the form of the 11/2 second favourite will show in her jumping during Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, pitted against the likes of Don Cossack who enters 7/2 top price after four consecutive wins since mid-October.
“I like her”, he added. “I thought it was a good run in the Ascot Chase becasue we had a bad time around Christmas and January. She wasn’t right at all and we had to leave her alone, but her run at Aintree was a very good run. Her biggest record is her jumping; she ran a great race last year and was second to Holywell in Festival, and Ascot would have brought her on quite a bit.”
Gold Cup – Bobs Worth
Henderson’s Gold Cup hopeful meanwhile is somewhat unpredictable 16/1 outsider, Bobs Worth, formerly a three-time consecutive winner at the Festival between 2011-13.
“He’s never been the easiest, but he’s been going round here quite a long time and it will be his fifth Festival”, Henderson added.
“He won at three consecutive Festvials and that takes a lot of doing, especially over different races. With good ground at Cheltenham, we’ll be there.
Other Potential Winning Chasers
The surface for next week’s Festival will be decisive to all horses taking part over the four days, Henderson outlining this when discussing some his other potential hopefuls.
“There are lots of chances. I could see Hammersly Lake, Dawalan or even Cool Macavity if it has good ground. Theinval has been doing nothing wrong and on good ground; I think the ground will be dependant on who comes to the fore on the day and justifiably all of them are there.”
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