Henderson 'desperate' to get prep-run into Binocular
Nicky Henderson, who has been constantly shuffling his Cheltenham pack because of the cold snap, has revealed his two greatest fears in the build-up to the Festival.
He needs to get another race into former champion hurdler Binocular, and he is reaching desperation point in attempting to qualify a number horses for the handicaps.
With Henderson holding key chances in most of the major races at Cheltenham, some would say it is a nice problem with which to be confronted, but the trainer knows he has an obligation to all his owners, as well as a group of talented horses, which have had one target all season.
Binocular lost his most recent chance for an outing when last Saturday's Sandown card was abandoned and Henderson has been struggling since to come up with a feasible alternative.
"Binocular is our biggest problem," he said candidly. "And summing up the options for him, there is not a great deal. There's the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso next week, but that would be a journey in uncertain conditions.
"We've got Grandouet for the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton (February 18) and that's always been his target, so that leaves us with Gowran Park (Red Mills Hurdle, February 18), but I'm not keen to go to Ireland, where they tell me the ground will be very testing," he said.
Henderson has been able to keep his big team in full training on the all-weather gallop at Seven Barrows.
"We haven't missed a day," he reported, but another major concern is how he is going to find opportunities for his novices, particularly the inexperienced. "There are a number of novice hurdlers and novice chasers that need runs.
"And the other thing that is very shortly going to become a horrible problem is that the deadline for the handicaps is coming up. For the novices, you need to have three runs, and a lot of them are sitting on two," he said.
Henderson walked Newbury with Tony McCoy yesterday and both appeared happy with their inspection only days ahead of the Betfair Super Saturday card. However, that news was tempered a little by the forecast for snow and rain later in the week.
Elsewhere, Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Steps To Freedom remains on course to have a run on the Flat at Dundalk on Friday week. As a smart performer on the level, which is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, Jessica Harrington's six-year-old has plenty going for him with the Festival in mind, not least that he is already a Cheltenham winner having struck there in November.
Harrington has given her exciting youngster a winter break since, but he will soon be back in competitive action.
"He'll run in Dundalk on Friday week in a mile-and-a-half race and he then may go to Leopardstown for a gallop after racing on March 4. It depends how he comes out of the race in Dundalk," the Co Kildare handler explained.
Meanwhile, Kilkenny native Johnny Butler continued his excellent start to his training career in England by saddling the well-backed Silver Linnet to score at Kempton yesterday.
Butler's sole runner over jumps, Petroglyph, scored at Wetherby last month. He has had just a handful of representatives on the Flat and Silver Linnet got him off the mark in that sphere under Adam Kirby yesterday.
"I got my licence in January and I've only got eight in at the moment," Butler said. "It's onwards and upwards I hope. I spent 12 years with Aidan O'Brien, as an assistant and I also rode winners for him.
"After that I managed a stud, but I thought I'd try training, get a few horses and make a go of it."(© Daily Telegraph, London)