NICKY HENDERSON: MY CHELTENHAM TEAM
Published 29/02/2012 | 06:54
Nicky Henderson on the star names in his 2012 Cheltenham Festival team.
Lyvius went to Kelso and won and now he goes to Newbury where we will find out if he is good enough for the JCB Triumph Hurdle. I like him but in fairness we have been a bit short on juveniles this season and it looks as if Alan King has got them all!
You are all going to say where is Simonsig going and he worked very well on Tuesday morning. I had a long chat with his owner Ronnie Bartlett - Barry Geraghty is coming down to school him on Friday and then work on Saturday so we will try and make a decision which race he goes for at the Festival after that.
Ronnie was flicking from the Supreme Novices' to the Neptune Investment and at two in the morning I am going two miles and at four I am going two and a half. It is nothing to do with the opposition it is simply what is his trip? It is hard to get away from the pace and speed he has shown as he is a hugely talented horse. He is very, very well and worked great on Tuesday. He had to sit in behind two horses at Kelso as he has that speed to go past anything and would win on the Flat. You can't believe he won't stay though as he won a point-to-point and his bumper was over 2m2f. He just has so much speed for a horse that does stay.
He is doing alright and he goes for the RSA Chase. Take Grands Crus out and it is very open . Amazingly, he looks ten times better than he did before the Reynoldstown. Yogi Breisner will be down next Wednesday for his usual Long Run session and we want him to have a look at this horse as he jumped out to the left at Ascot. He should be better suited going left-handed at Cheltenham and he won around the track last year. The breathing operation he had knocked him back a little bit and if you had seen him three weeks before the Reynoldstown I didn't think I was going to get anywhere with him. He looks great now.
He has done great as that was a horrible fall at Newbury. He schooled on Friday and you would not know anything has happened. So for a five-year-old to come out and just put that fall in the back of his mind, and do what he does naturally, was really admirable. I don't know what would have happened at Newbury but AP (McCoy) said at some point in the race that he is a Supreme Novices' horse and that is the race he goes for. He has not worked with Simonsig and you would just not do that as they are two completely different horses. Darlan is a good horse at home but Simonsig is exceptional and if you tried to find out here what is going to happen at Cheltenham at home you would not have a runner as you would ruin every horse in the yard. Darlan is a lovely horse and will better in a year's time.
He is in good form and has come out of Newbury well. He did is first little piece of work on Tuesday and will have one session with Yogi Breisner next week and will not see a fence between now and then. He will wear earplugs in the paddock but not in the Gold Cup - that was what we did at Newbury in the Betfair Denman Chase. It will just take the parade out of the equation and then he will have a rush of adrenalin.
I don't think there is any doubt that this is a different Kauto Star than we were playing with last year and we were two-love up after that. It is now two-two so it is going to be a very interesting battle so let's hope it is another great race like last year. It is building up like that again and there is a lot to play for - there is not much between them but I do believe Kauto has to be a better horse this season.
Everyone was baying for his retirement last year and the only thing I can say is a I wish Paul (Nicholls) had listened and life would be a lot easier! We were only just behind him at Kempton and if he had really winged the last then that could have got it down to a length, so we are not that far apart. We started the year at Haydock behind Kauto Star where Ruby (Walsh) injected this huge burst of speed down the back straight where the turbo kicked in and then did the same thing at Kempton.
I don't know if he will do that at Cheltenham but it is a different track to be doing it on as in a Gold Cup you tend to wind up the pace. If he is going to head for home a long way out then he has another two and half furlongs to go up a hill and that may be harder for Kauto Star and easier for Long Run.
Sam Waley-Cohen and Long Run get on really well together and I always will have total confidence in the horse and Sam riding him. They got into a nice rhythm at Newbury and really looked good but you did not have Kauto hammering that pace on. I would just like a good honest gallop, let Sam get into a nice rhythm and have a nice time - if he enjoys it, the horse will enjoy it and so will I.
He has been very different this year as his whole life last season was gung-ho. It was get out and beat them up and that was what happened at Cheltenham when he tried to make all in the Arkle so I was trying to avoid that. He has been very relaxed in his races and has been going the right way all season. His win at Kempton was in a funny sort of race while he looked to have come and won at Ascot against Somersby. We can learn from that, he will come on for it and he is in good form.
A lot of people ask whether I wish he was still in the Champion Hurdle and I say no. Owner Dai (Walters) and I have talked about it long enough and said we always wanted to take a look at three miles as he stays two and a half so well. So we are going to try the impossible and take on Big Buck's, who will be very hard to beat but Oscar Whisky is in great form.
We will see what happens but he will go over fences next year. We have got to find out what his trip is and it is quite unusual to go into a race like the World Hurdle untried over the distance. The only other way to do it was to test Big Buck's before this and have taken him on at Cheltenham but we went the two and a half mile route. I have always said I wish there was a Ryanair Hurdle as that would be very handy.
I don't know what the chances of beating Big Buck's are. I think we have a great chance of being there at the last to have a fight with him. Big Buck's will tough it out and will be very hard to get by but this horse will have some speed if he has got the stamina. He would have as good a chance as any horse that has taken him on Big Buck's for a while. If you compare Punchestowns with Oscar Whisky then I think we have got a chance at Cheltenham.
He has been in really good form all year and ran a great race behind Long Run in the Denman Chase at Newbury. He was getting 10lbs so he has got to improve - but there is improvement and we have got to pray for no dreaded bounce. Nobody can explain it or tell me why it happens and Burton Port must be the horse you'd worry about it for at Cheltenham.
But he looks fantastic and always does but is not a flash horse. He had all that time off and this year his work in the lead-up to Newbury was much superior to anything in the build up to his whole novice chase campaign. I don't know why, he just seems to have improved at home and that was a very good run at Newbury. So it is the Gold Cup that is his number one priority and where we are going God willing. He looks tremendous.
He is in very good form. We were going to Newbury for a gallop as I thought he might need it but we ended up going to Wincanton for the Kingwell Hurdle and ended up looking like he didn't need any of it! He certainly won't be having any more gallops and we don't need to do too much more with him.
He looks slick and happy and enjoyed that the other day at Wincanton but you still have a problem beating Hurricane Fly. I thought we would be going into the Champion Hurdle with three runners along with Spirit Son and Grandouet but it shows how fickle this game is. So we are down to one but with what we saw at Wincanton maybe one will do.
I know he is not everyone's favourite but I love him and he is pretty unlucky not to have had a higher Cheltenham profile as I thought he may have won three Champion Hurdles by now. But life has not been easy for him - or me - and consequently he deserves to have a right shot at it this year. If Wincanton is anything to go by, then he is coming into the Festival in real good shape.
Everyone has their views on him but he is the most lovely horse. Some say he won't come up the hill and Colin Tizzard says Cue Card will go too fast for him so we will just do our own thing - they can go as fast as they like!
There are two reasons why we think he will come up the hill - firstly he is must stronger horse this season than last, and secondly AP McCoy said after the Supreme Novices' Hurdle that he ought to have his wind done. He is great to watch over his fences and we just have to hope we can keep it as accurate and spectacular as he has been.
Cheltenham is more testing than Doncaster, Kempton and Newbury but I don't think that ought to worry him. He has beaten Peddlers Cross but I am inclined to go along with Donald (McCain) who believes he was not right as we sailed past him at the first fence and that was that. The race told us nothing. But what has been amazing in all his three runs this season are the times as they have been staggering.
It was a course record at Newbury while on both days at Kempton and Doncaster, when races were being run in 20 seconds over standard, he was going around in levels - and on his own and not coming off the bridle. He seems to get around pretty quickly and I am not sure how many horses can go as fast as that. His jumping is his biggest weapon and I felt sorry for French Opera at Newbury last time. He was going along merrily in front at Newbury then this great big black aeroplane came sailing past him down the back straight and that was that. He will make three lengths at each fence.
He is not a huge heavy horse so he was probably pretty fit ahead of his comeback win in the Ascot Chase. You would like to think there is a bit of improvement in him. He goes to the Ryanair and we are in exactly the same place as we were last year as he had won at Ascot.
Some people think he does not like Cheltenham but I hope they are wrong - it is only because he ran in the Arkle and got completely outpaced. He is a lot sharper now. This day last year he was exactly where he is now - in great form - but then suffered a non-displaced stress fracture of the pelvis. He was out of training for six months but I would be extremely disappointed if he bounced although we have been mindful about what we have done with him since Ascot, which is not a lot.
I have never been tempted to try the Gold Cup route with him despite a second in the King George. As you saw at Ascot, he is pretty sharp and the Ryanair is where he belongs although we would like to come back to the King George in December
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