All-star Henderson cast ready to shine in Festival spotlight
Nicky Henderson grimaced with resignation when told that Sprinter Sacre was poised to become the shortest-priced favourite to line up at the Cheltenham Festival since the great Arkle five decades ago.
If there was a butterfly in the trainer's stomach before that reminder, one imagines it was immediately sent into a frenzied flutter.
The Henderson battalions are almost ready to try to follow up last year's amazing haul of seven winners. Impossible? William Hill offer only 7/4 about six or more Henderson winners.
Yesterday at Seven Barrows, Henderson revealed that Riverside Theatre had been treated for stomach ulcers brought on by stress. "I suspect they might put me on the same medication," he quipped.
Clearly, the burden of expectation following an unbelievably successful year when everything went according to the script is almost unbearable for the veteran trainer.
Twelve months ago, Henderson went to Cheltenham needing one Festival winner to join the legendary Fulke Walwyn as the most successful trainer at the meeting. At the end of the four days he emerged as the all-time highest achiever, with a remarkable 46 winners. What chance a repeat?
"You'd settle for one," he said. "Anything that comes your way is gratefully received. The best thing is if you can find one on the opening day. It doesn't make the horses run any faster, but it gives everyone confidence."
That could be sorted out in the very first race, the two-mile Supreme Novices Hurdle, for which his rising star My Tent Or Yours is 7/4 favourite.
"He has a long way to go, but he's done nothing wrong," the trainer said.
There are so many stars in the Henderson team that even the high achievers of a season ago are in danger of being jostled out of the limelight. He has two of the top four in the betting for the Gold Cup, but he described 3/1 favourite Bobs Worth, already twice a Festival winner, as one which had not yet reached superstar status.
"He's won a novice chase and a Hennessy. We'll find out who he is and what he is in the Gold Cup."
Long Run, already a Gold Cup winner, has pleased in his preparation. But pride of place is reserved for the brilliant Sprinter Sacre, which if he starts at 1/3 or less will indeed be the shortest-priced favourite since Arkle.
"He just loves doing it," Henderson said. "People say he hasn't beaten much, but you can only beat what's in front of you. I don't enjoy watching his races, but this horse, you won't be able to stop him. We're not going to drop him in and stop his jumping."
The other for which he has high hopes is Simonsig, the 4/5 favourite for the Arkle Trophy, which is flying in his work. "He worked with a mile-and-a-quarter Flat horse, rated 114, and he absolutely assassinated him. He is good fresh, and he does not take a lot of work."
Henderson is 8/13 to be champion trainer at the Festival, and only 12/1 to land the three big championship races, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup. (© Daily Telegraph, London)