Nicky Henderson might publicly admit he does not expect to match last year’s phenomenal haul of seven Cheltenham Festival winners, but a team of at least 35 from his Lambourn stable will be out doing their best.
These include virtually all of his returning heroes, such as Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth, Simonsig and Riverside Theatre as well as a former Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in Long Run, which explains why Henderson is long odds-on to be top trainer when the meeting begins in three weeks’ time. “What happened last year is unrepeatable. Maybe Paul [Nicholls] or Willie Mullins will have seven, but it has happened once to us, so it won’t happen again,” said the Festival’s all-time leading trainer.
“You would settle for one. The best thing is if you can find one winner on the opening day. It doesn’t make the horses run faster but it gives everyone confidence.”
If betting is taken literally, that one winner will surely be Sprinter Sacre, who could be sent off the hottest favourite at the fixture since Arkle won the 1966 Gold Cup.
“Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre are two of the best work horses I’ve ever seen,” Henderson said. “I think he [Sprinter Sacre] is as good looking a horse as you’ll ever see. Bobs Worth is no oil painting, he’s just a nice horse, but with Sprinter Sacre it’s a different ball game. He has a lot of natural talent and it’s just easy for him. We won’t be complacent, but he loves doing it. If you enjoy what you are doing, you can do it well.”
While Simonsig, hot favourite to follow in Sprinter Sacre’s footsteps by taking the Arkle Trophy, could be joined by his stablemate in having a preparatory schooling session with the renowned Yogi Breisner, a handful of the other leading lights are to have a racecourse gallop at Kempton on Saturday. These include the Gold Cup hopes Long Run and Bobs Worth, who have not appeared in recent trials, as well as Triumph Hurdle prospect Rolling Star.
Defending Ryanair champion Riverside Theatre and Binocular, the former Champion Hurdle winner, are others who will have a spin on the turf.