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


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.

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing