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.

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
i100
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Behaviour Support Assistant (BSA)

(?19,817 ? ?21,734)Pro Rata: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support Assis...

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?