Cheltenham Contenders: Nicky Henderson

With the likes of Constitution Hill, Jonbon and Marie’s Rock in his armoury at Seven Barrows, trainer Nicky Henderson has one of his strongest Cheltenham Festival squads for a while.

The opening Tuesday card of the four-day meeting could make or break Henderson’s week as Constitution Hill bids for Champion Hurdle glory and Jonbon faces off with El Fabiolo in the Arkle.

There remain question marks over where Henderson’s star mares Epatante and Marie’s Rock could line-up, while Luccia looks to have a great chance in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Sky Sports Racing’s Luke Harvey visited Seven Barrows to get the latest on Henderson’s hopefuls…

Arkle Novices’ Chase

“On reflection, I’m taking positives from Warwick – I think it’ll do Jonbon good. It was a short, sharp shock but it’ll wake him up a little bit.

“He’s a big burly horse and looks magnificent but you can look a bit too magnificent. I suspect he’ll have to lose a bit of weight between now and Cheltenham.”

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Henderson believes Jonbon’s scare at Warwick will have sharpened him up for the Arkle Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival

Champion Hurdle

Constitution Hill is extraordinary. You cannot flummox him and I think that is his greatest asset – he’s completely unfazed by anything.

“Walking and trotting around the yard, every other horse would lap him. You would not pick him out in a crowd. But, as soon as you ask him something it’s always there.

“He’s done two or three good bits of work over the last few weeks. He’ll have an away day, probably at Kempton two weeks before.

“Willie’s horse [State Man] looked jolly good at the Dublin Racing Festival.”

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Henderson and the team behind Constitution Hill are excited to see their star strut his stuff in the Champion Hurdle next month

Mares’ Hurdle/Champion Hurdle

Epatante had a great year last year, winning three Grade Ones, and we said we’d stick to that plan with the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle. It was only bad luck that I couldn’t run Constitution Hill at Ascot so I had to switch him to Newcastle.

“She then came out in the Grade Two at Doncaster and absolutely slaughtered them.

“Where we go, I’m not quite sure. We haven’t made our minds up. She proved when she won at Aintree that she does stay two-and-a-half miles but that trip around Cheltenham is quite a bit stiffer.”

Mares’ Hurdle/Stayers’ Hurdle

Marie’s Rock won it last year and was impressive. She was impressive again on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham.

“It’s possible that we move her up to three miles. She’s never been over the trip but has always got two-and-a-half really well around Cheltenham.

“We don’t have to make a decision at this stage and we can juggle these around.

“Both Theatre Glory and Epatante need supplementing for the Mares’ but that’s not too expensive.”

Marie's Rock on her way to victory in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham
Marie’s Rock on her way to victory in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham

Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Luccia was great at Exeter, that was fun. She looked very, very good. She goes straight there along with Ahorsewithnoname, who was second in it last year. We’d be quite strong there I hope.”

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Looking for Cheltenham Festival winners? The Sky Sports Racing team are on hand with some useful tips for when you are studying the form

Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle

“We’re going to do a Mullins here and run five I hope! Walking On Air, Steal A March for the Royal family, Captain Morgs, Call Me Lord and Scarpia. They’d all have realistic chances.”

Turners Novices’ Chase

Balco Coastal just got outstayed last time at Sandown and I think I can have him a little bit sharper than that.

“He’ll have to have come on a fair bit to be realistically fanciable but I like him and he’s going the right way.”

National Hunt Chase

Mister Coffey is the one for this. He got beaten last time and I have to say he could probably have won. He stays, he gallops and jumps.

“I don’t think City Chief is ready for this year so we’ll leave him at home.”


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