Henderson revels in Festival Spirit

The trainer with best recent record at Cheltenham's big meeting holds 'best chance' of finally winning Gold Cup

Nicky Henderson has once again contrived to turn the shortest month into one apparently without end, forswearing alcohol as he prepares his stable for the challenge that defines its whole year. The Seven Barrows trainer must endure only four more days on the wagon, but there is another fortnight after that before he finally reaches the Cheltenham Festival.

"And it's a very fraught time for everyone," he said yesterday, as he presented his team to a media open morning. "If we can get this lot there without something going wrong, it'll be nothing short of a miracle. Every night you go round, every cough you hear, every beat is monitored. I envy the Flat boys. When they've finished with the Guineas, they've got Epsom and Ascot and Goodwood and York and Chester and everything else. And while Aintree have done a great job, in fairness our whole season hinges on these four days at Cheltenham."

Little wonder, then, if the mild spring air in Lambourn was saturated with a delicious tension. The last two horses on parade were Binocular, who defends the Stan James Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the meeting; and Long Run, whose breakthrough success in the King George VI Chase announced him as the young pretender against three previous winners in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on its final afternoon. Binocular would make Henderson the first to train six Champion Hurdle winners; Long Run, in contrast, would redress one of the few remaining omissions in his CV.

"He'd be the best chance we've had in the Gold Cup, and by quite a long way," Henderson acknowledged. "People have this thing about him round Cheltenham, but I'm not worried by that. In the RSA Chase last year, we'd had an inkling a week before – his coat, his whole demeanour, had just gone. He'd had a long campaign. And then in the Paddy Power, going that real lick over two miles five furlongs, he just got out of his comfort zone early on. We've done a lot of work on that, and what was so good at Kempton was the rhythm of his jumping."

As for Binocular, Henderson does not share Tony McCoy's concerns about that rather perfunctory rehearsal at Sandown. He reiterated that a steady pace and small field were never going to flatter this horse, and also made the intriguing suggestion that the obstacles that day had been set up "like gates", inhibiting even this most electric of jumpers. "I know he wasn't everyone's cup of tea at Sandown," Henderson said. "But he's been looked at, head to toe, and everyone has given him ticks all the way. It looks a very good race, and I do respect Hurricane Fly, but as long as our horse is at last year's level he'll take a lot of beating."

With 37 career wins, Henderson stands just three short of Fulke Walwyn's Festival record and will be formidably represented in every grade and discipline. Having initially been inclined to wait for Aintree with Riverside Theatre, he now favours a crack at the Ryanair Chase, while as usual he has a couple of dashing novice chasers in Finian's Rainbow and Master Of The Hall. Perhaps his most infectious enthusiasm, however, was for an alliterative pair in the Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle. And while he clearly adores Sprinter Sacre, he reluctantly chose Spirit Son for his charity bet. "Sprinter Sacre is the most beautiful horse," he stressed. "He has huge natural talent and is going to make a wonderful chaser next season. He's just a bit raw. But the other one is a ready-made speed car, thoroughly professional."

Henderson had a reverse later in the day when Minella Class was given the slip by Aikman at Huntingdon. The winner gives James Ewart, his go-ahead trainer, a big chance to put Scottish racing on the map at the Festival. On the same card, Starluck made a proficient debut over fences, but his trainer, Alan Fleming, cautioned that he may yet wait for Aintree. Definitely sitting out Cheltenham is Hurricane Cyclone, who won again at Thurles despite rather losing concentration; Bishopsfurze, dropping out to fourth, proved a rare disappointment for Willie Mullins.

Turf account

Nap

Qalinas (1.45 Sandown) French import who has so far been set plenty to do in decent company round Taunton.

Next best

China Gold (4.00 Sandown) Encouraging comeback last month, on the bridle a long way despite being too keen early.

One to watch

Quite The Man (Malcolm Jefferson) Gave the winner too much of a start off a steady pace at Market Rasen last week.

Where the money's going

Taqleed is 8-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster in April.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick