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It’s less than four weeks to the start of the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson previews his list of runners at the 2022 Festival.
The six-time champion Jump trainer has saddled 70 winners at The Festival, making him the most successful UK-based trainer of all-time at the four-day spectacular and second overall behind Willie Mullins (who has saddled 78 winners).
For many, Henderson’s leading contender for The Festival in 2022 is Shishkin. The Marie Donnelly-owned eight year is seeking his third Festival victory having taken the Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2020 and the Grade One Sporting Life Arkle in 2021.
Shishkin is undefeated in seven starts over fences. After making a winning reappearance in the Grade Two Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park over Christmas, the Sholokhov gelding was last seen when getting the better of the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene by a length after an epic tussle in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot on 22nd January.
Currently the 4-6 favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with the sponsor, Henderson is adamant Shishkin should not be regarded as a “banker” by any means.
The master of Seven Barrows said: “There is no way he is going to be a banker. That was a fantastic race (at Ascot). Everybody loved it bar Willie and myself! Sadly one of us knew we were going to go down. It was great we came out in front but there wasn’t that much in it and it looked like he had got us in trouble – he (Energumene) is a tough horse.
“Willie is going to chuck Chacun Pour Soi in as well and you never want to underestimate him. I know they will say he doesn’t travel or do this. He can still be a real player.
There was only a length between them the other day and anything can happen. Going left-handed possibly helps us. There is not much in it and a length is not much.
“It (the Clarence House Chase) doesn’t seem to have left a mark on Shishkin. He seems in very good form. He hasn’t schooled since but he will do next week.
“He will follow anybody and I would expect the same sort of tactics will be employed by both teams. Willie might try and do something different but I’m sure there will be a good pace on whatever happens.
“Shishkin has a different style of racing to Altior and Sprinter Sacre. He hasn’t got the exuberance in his jumping of an Altior or a Sprinter Sacre in the way he doesn’t stand off miles away. You hardly notice him leaving the ground. He is just very quick from A to B. They both had enormous scope and he has got loads of scope but he crosses the fence in a different manner but he is very efficient.
“He grew upwards and outwards during the summer. It was very noticeable. I don’t think he is a banker whereas in their era (Altior and Sprinter Sacre’s) they probably were bankers. We have definitely got a fight on our hands whereas you would probably say in Altior and Sprinter they were probably as close to a banker as you could get. I don’t think this horse is.
“Turning in at Ascot the other day, you would say crikey we are in trouble, but then stamina kicked in as they had gone a good gallop. That is his strength and I’d say the hill would help him.
“Willie says he doesn’t know how we will beat Shishkin but I think he is playing games there as I know perfectly well he is looking forward to having another crack. I don’t think he is that frightened. I would have love to won by 20 lengths but the great thing about it was that it was a great race and everybody got the race that they wanted and it hasn’t spoilt the Champion Chase.
“There is very much room for round two. If one had won by 10 lengths you would have said it would have wrecked the Champion Chase but it hasn’t and it has left the door wide open.”
Henderson has saddled a joint-record six winners of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Remittance Man (1992), Finian’s Rainbow (2012), Sprinter Sacre (2013, 2016), and Altior (2018, 2019).
Nicky Henderson and Shishkin
Henderson is the most successful trainer of all time in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with eight successes – See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D’Air (2017, 2018) and Epatante (2020).
Epatante is bidding to become the third horse to regain the Champion Hurdle this year following on from Comedy Of Errors (1973 & 1975) and Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013).
The JP McManus-owned eight year old mare was third to Honeysuckle in the 2021 Unibet Champion Hurdle and has won her two starts so far this season, taking the Grade One Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November (when she dead-heated with Not So Sleepy) and the Grade One Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Henderson said: “Epatante might well go to Kempton (to exercise in the build-up to The Festival) and she is in very good form. We are very happy. Everything says she is really good.
“We set off at the beginning of the season and JP said we have two objectives this year – the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle. That is what we wanted and we nearly got it. We got one and a half which was great.
“I thought at Kempton she was great and she really did look like her old self. She was hurdling like she always used to and tanked Nico into the race. She doesn’t normally go on that early but she was all for getting home and getting back to bed and she was off.
“We’ve still got one big problem in front of us (Honeysuckle). I walked out of the stand with JP and the first thing I said was I want to see what Nico said, as he hadn’t ridden her before, just to see if she would get two and a half and therefore you could switch her into the Mares’ Hurdle. He hopped off and I said ‘Would we ever get two and a half? And he said ‘No, she is pure speed’. He was absolutely adamant there is no way you would go two and a half with her.
“She has been in very good form and is in totally different shape to last season where it all went a bit pear shaped. She won the Fighting Fifth very easily but then it went wrong.
“I was hoping Appreciate It was going to take on Honeysuckle the other day and if anything was going to give her a test, it was going to be him. From our point of view we didn’t get to look at that. She looked very good and she will be very hard to beat but I do think we are at least back where she was (with Epatante) when she won her Champion Hurdle. That might not have been the strongest field in the world and I’m the first to admit that.
“I do think we are back in the right place. She is not under our radar as we are getting very good vibes from her. Her form this season has been good but it is the way she has been doing it. Everything has been very professional and she is sharp and good.
“Every summer with every horse you are going to do MOT’s and you are going to sort out what you think can help. She does tend to carry her head quite high even when she is cantering or trotting around here. She has always been a horse that wants lots of massages and things like that but she is a sweet filly. Honeysuckle is going to be very hard to beat as she has looked spectacular and faultless the whole way through. It doesn’t look like there is any chink in her armour but we have all had horses like that. All good things do come to an end. Altior got to 19 then all of a sudden things went wrong. You can never say it is unbeatable and it is very rare they stay unbeatable.”
Champ, also owned by JP McManus, is seeking a second Festival victory, having won what is now the Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in 2020. This season, the 10 year old made a winning reappearance in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December before going down by just over three lengths to Paisley Park in the Grade Two Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, 29th January. His Festival target is the Grade One Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
Henderson said: “He was maybe a little underwhelming on Trials Day. I didn’t think he jumped quite as well as he did at Ascot. He did little wrong. Full credit to Emma (Lavelle) and her team to get that horse (Paisley Park) back especially when he gave us a 20 length head start.
“If I can get him back where he was at Ascot, and I think he can, he has got to be thereabouts. He wasn’t as sharp as he was at Ascot. Ascot was his first run in quite a long time as he didn’t really have a race in the Gold Cup so actually his last real race was the Game Spirit at Newbury last season. He might have bounced a little bit but he was a better horse at Ascot than he was on Trials Day.
“He is good at home as he doesn’t do a lot. He doesn’t like the all-weather. He has to go up and down it but he is not flashy up there. Nico used to ride him a lot at home and when you needed him to do a little bit you asked for it and you got it. If you leave him alone he will do his own thing.
“In the Gold Cup last year he walked through the first, broke the second and pulled up before he fell over the third. It was a disaster and there was no doubt something was ailing him.
“The general feeling was the less pressure to put on him jumping-wise is to keep the jumping down to a minimum. If you are going to do that you might as well jump hurdles and not fences.
“It was really was (quite a straightforward decision to go for the Stayers’ Hurdle). Though he was in the Gold Cup it seemed the obvious thing to do really and that is the way he is going to go for now.”
The Seven Barrows representative for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup will be Chantry House, who also races in the iconic silks of JP McManus. Winner of what is now the Turners Novices’ Chase at The Festival last season, the eight year old has won two of his three starts so far this season, most recently collecting the Grade Two Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.
Henderson, who is seeking a third victory in chasing’s Blue Riband following Long Run (2011) and Bobs Worth (2013) said: “He wasn’t earth shattering last time out but we have reason to think we have got a little bit up our sleeves.
“If you go back, he hadn’t really had a race since Aintree (last season). He had a solo spin in a two horse race around Sandown. He had a two mile gallop in the King George but the King George didn’t work at all. We put the cheekpieces on him at Cheltenham. We talked about putting them on in the King George but AP (McCoy) who is a great help and comes down a lot and watches the horses school and talk to the boys, and Nico just wondered whether he needed them.
“They thought that while we were going three miles they are going to jump off and go and the first half mile would test his experience and ability to cope with a lot more runners around him. It was not like novice chases where they are all looking after each other.
“Both Nico and AP mulled over cheekpieces to help him in the early stages in the King George and they were probably right but it was the only bit of work he did before the King George that I thought he was flying. He then went to school and I said I can’t believe this horse needs cheekpieces but I called it wrong.
“We did put them on in the Cotswold Chase. I don’t say they made a great deal of difference but they helped him focus on it. He was good and got stuck in. I know the runner-up (Santini) pretty well and he was second in a Gold Cup. It is very solid form.
“The Gold Cup has opened up a lot and good horses have won good trials. Nothing has absolutely jumped off the front page and stamped his authority on the race so it is up for grabs. It is an intriguing race and you could make a case for a lot of horses.
“He is a high class horse and he is a good stayer too.”
DAY BY DAY GUIDE TO NICKY HENDERSON’S OTHER CONTENDERS FOR THE FESTIVAL™
Tuesday 15th March
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Constitution Hill, Jonbon
“They are both chalk and cheese. Constitution Hill would stand there all day and he would lie down for you. That is the way he behaves through life. He is completely the opposite to Jonbon, who is quite a hyper horse. He is in good form and they (Constitution Hill and Jonbon) worked on Saturday. They would both get two and a half miles. They don’t need to work together and it would ruin the whole party wouldn’t it if we knew the answer. I don’t want trials here and that is not the point of working horses together.
“I don’t want them ripping up trees and having dust ups here as they would do too much. They are very good. It is probably a help Jonbon is in the first race and we will have ways and means of keeping the adrenalin and atmosphere out of him as he will be the one that is on his toes. We will protect him. That is the way he is whereas with Constitution Hill nothing would worry him as he is very straightforward. They are both good rides in a race. Jonbon can be a bit keen but there is no danger of Constitution Hill being keen. Cheltenham will suit them both, it should do.
“Jonbon had a race last time at Haydock and I was pleased with him. He quickened up in horrible ground.
“By running Constitution Hill again I was never going to find a competitive race. There wasn’t anywhere else to go where you were going to get more than four or five runners (like in the Tolworth).
“They will work again this Saturday and the following Saturday. Constitution Hill will probably want to do a bit more than Jonbon but Jonbon has had that extra run at Haydock. You would have to be careful not to wind Jonbon up. It is like anybody winding up a watch with him as you can over wind.
I think they are both very strong. Like Altior and Shishkin you would like to think they are in their sort of league.
“There is going to be plenty of opposition you know that. It is always the best race to win on the whole card to be honest with you. We want to see England 1 Ireland 0. It is nice to have two, as two is better than one.
“They have done everything right and I hope all goes well. There is no doubt Willie’s are good but our job is to mind our own horses. I will let them jump four hurdles before the race as it is good to let them keep their eye in and they will probably do that the week before. I wouldn’t think either would go to Kempton.
“I think it wouldn’t harm Jonbon to have an away day. It wouldn’t do him no harm to go there and back again and have a day out. It is rather like the day we took him to Newbury before the Ladbrokes Trophy weekend. That did him a lot of good. It would do him a lot of good to go to the races walk around the paddock then come home again. The trick worked if you like.”
Nicky Henderson with Constitution Hill (left) and Jonbon (right)
Marie’s Rock – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
“I’m quietly looking forward to this. She is pretty good. She gets two and a half. I thought she was an absolute rocket to start with and she went wrong literally a week before Cheltenham when she favourite for the mares’ novices hurdle (in 2021). Last season I couldn’t find her at all.
“This season she has come straight back except for the Lanzarote where she jumped into the back of one but that wasn’t her fault. She stuck her neck out at Warwick and she galloped right through to the line. She was very strong at the end. You would think the two and a half at Cheltenham would suit her. It is what it looks like (that she excels over two and a half) as when she won first time at Kempton this season she stayed very well. I thought she was all speed as a youngster but she seems to stay very well which you need to do as it is quite a tough race for those mares.”
Wednesday 16th March
Walking On Air, I Am Maximus – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
“Walking On Air is very good. He took Newbury well enough but there was a couple of weeks where he wasn’t quite moving right. Something tipped him and I thought I can’t afford to do that again quite so close. I would have liked to have got another run into him but Nico is quite confident if any horse can do it on two runs, one bumper and one novice hurdle, it is him as he is so professional.
“I Am Maximus form is very good and that horse of Henry’s (Daly) is going over three miles. He is a good horse and I thought we nearly got him in trouble going to the last as there was nothing in it. He (Hillcrest) might have known a bit more or stayed a bit better but it was still a good performance. I think he is a classy horse.”
Dusart – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
“There is no doubt it will help him going the other way round. I think a lot of people were surprised I went right-handed again (at Exeter) after his first effort.
“His first effort was rather bad luck as it was one of those days at Leicester where there were not really any fences down the back straight. So they galloped down the back straight and came up over the little hill around the bend, down the hill and then suddenly there was a fence. It was the last thing the poor horse was expecting. It was a good lesson.
“Nico was very pleased with him at Exeter. It wasn’t that he needed a horse on the outside, he just needed company.
“He has been schooling a lot. Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) was down last week. He has got to learn to go straight with his jumping. He was as straight as a gun barrel, once with a horse on his left, once with a horse on his right and once on his own. Never did he move off a straight line.
“I had him in here, there and everywhere this week but everybody told me not to. He is a good horse. Bravemansgame is going to be one of Britain’s bankers. Britain needs bankers and most of them are in the city! You have got to take him on and I think that is his race.”
Thursday 17th March
Mister Fisher – Ryanair Chase
“Considering the ground I thought Mister Fisher ran a good race last time out. He would go for the Ryanair if the ground was decent enough.”
Mister Coffey – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
“Mister Coffey could easily run in the Kim Muir. He is a good solid fellow, looks like he wants to go left handed and jumps well. That was extraordinary (what he done at Sandown, taking fence out), I’ve not had the bill yet! I do like him.”
Friday 18th March
First Street, Broomfield Burg, Balco Coastal – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle
“First Street will definitely be in the County Hurdle. He is pretty smart. I would think the same thing would be on the agenda for Broomfield Burg. He was a bit disappointing at Newbury as I didn’t think there was a lot between them at the time. He came there at the second last and didn’t finish it out quite so well.
“Balco Coastal, I couldn’t make my mind up whether it was stamina that ran out (last time) as he came to win the race to be fair. I don’t know if he is a two miler or a two and a half miler so he could come into one of the handicaps or we might keep him for Aintree.”
Nicky Henderson’s 70 winners at The Festival™
1985 See You Then Unibet Champion Hurdle
1985 The Tsarevich Paddy Power Plate
1985 First Bout JCB Triumph Hurdle
1986 River Ceiriog Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
1986 See You Then Unibet Champion Hurdle
1986 The Tsarevich Paddy Power Plate
1987 See You Then Unibet Champion Hurdle
1987 Alone Success JCB Triumph Hurdle
1989 Rustle Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
1990 Brown Windsor Cathcart Chase
1990 Master Bob Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
1991 Remittance Man Sporting Life Arkle
1992 Remittance Man Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
1992 Flown Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
1993 Travado Sporting Life Arkle
1993 Thumbs Up McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle
1994 Raymylette Cathcart Chase
1997 Barna Boy McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle
1999 Stormyfairweather Cathcart Chase
1999 Katarino JCB Triumph Hurdle
2000 Tiutchev Sporting Life Arkle
2000 Marlborough Ultima Handicap Chase
2000 Stormyfairweather Cathcart Chase
2000 Bacchanal Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
2002 The Bushkeeper Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
2005 Trabolgan Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
2005 Liberthine Paddy Power Plate
2005 Juveigneur Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
2006 Fondmort Ryanair Chase
2006 Non So Paddy Power Plate
2006 Greenhope Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
2009 Punjabi Unibet Champion Hurdle
2009 Zaynar JCB Triumph Hurdle
2009 Andytown Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys H’cap H
2010 Binocular Unibet Champion Hurdle
2010 Spirit River Coral Cup
2010 Soldatino JCB Triumph Hurdle
2011 Bobs Worth Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
2011 Long Run WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup
2012 Sprinter Sacre Sporting Life Arkle
2012 Simonsig Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
2012 Bobs Worth Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
2012 Finian’s Rainbow Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2012 Une Artiste Boodles Juvenile Hcp Hdl (Fred Winter)
2012 Riverside Theatre Ryanair Chase
2012 Bellvano Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
2013 Simonsig Sporting Life Arkle
2013 Rajdhani Express Northern Trust Company Novices’ H’cap Chase
2013 Sprinter Sacre Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2013 Bobs Worth WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup
2014 Whisper Coral Cup
2015 Call The Cops Pertemps Network Final
2015 Peace And Co JCB Triumph Hurdle
2016 Altior Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
2016 Sprinter Sacre Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2017 Altior Sporting Life Arkle
2017 Buveur D’Air Unibet Champion Hurdle
2017 Might Bite Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
2018 Buveur D’Air Unibet Champion Hurdle
2018 Altior Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2019 Beware The Bear Ultima Handicap Chase
2019 William Henry Coral Cup
2019 Altior Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2019 Pentland Hills JCB Triumph Hurdle
2020 Shishkin Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
2020 Epatante Unibet Champion Hurdle
2020 Champ Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
2020 Dame de Compagnie Coral Cup
2021 Shishkin Sky Bet Sporting Life Arkle
2021 Chantry House Turners Novices’ Chase
The Festival™ 2022 – Order of Running
Tuesday 15th March
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y 4yo+ £135,000
2.10 Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y 5yo+ £175,000
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f 5yo+ £125,000
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m 87y 4yo+ £450,000
4.10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y 4yo+ £120,000
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 87y 4yo £80,000
5.30 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y 5yo+ £125,000
Wednesday 16th March
1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f 4yo+ £135,000
2.10 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y 5yo+ £175,000
2.50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 5f 4yo+ £100,000
3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y 5yo+ £400,000
4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y 5yo+ £75,000
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 1m 7f 199y 5yo+ £125,000
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y4 6yo £80,000
Thursday 17th March
1.30 Turners Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m 3f 168y 5yo+ £175,000
2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 7f 213y 5yo+ £100,000
2.50 Ryanair Festival Trophy Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f 127y 5yo+ £375,000
3.30 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y 4yo+ £325,000
4.10 Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 127y 5yo+ £120,000
4.50 Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y 4yo+ £105,000
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase (Sponsored By The JRL Group) 3m 2f 5yo+ £75,000
Friday 18th March
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 179y 4yo £135,000
2.10 McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 179y 5yo+ £100,000
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y 4yo+ £135,000
3.30 Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y 5yo+ £625,000
4.10 St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase 3m 2f 70y 5yo+ £50,000
4.50 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f 127y 5yo+ £120,000
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f 56y 4yo+ £75,000