Nicky Henderson is regarded by many as the best horse racing trainer in the UK right now, and once again he has put together a fantastic team to take to the Cheltenham Festival. He has two shining stars in the yard that will go back to the festival to defend the titles they won last season. Altior heads to the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race which he won last season, while Buveur D’Air heads to the Champion Hurdle, a race he is looking to win for the third consecutive season.
The Champions Hurdle is the feature race on the first day of the festival, and as ever you can expect this to be one of the biggest betting heats of the week. With the reigning champion Buveur D’Air back to try and retain his crown, and the mare Apple’s Jade heading for the race, we have two of the most popular horses in training going head to head. Expect plenty of bets on these two in the Champion Hurdle, and those wanting to get involved should look at taking advantage of the many free bet offers that are available ahead of the festival.
Apple’s Jade adds a completely different element to the race, and up until recently, it was expected that she would head to the Mares Hurdle race at the festival that she ran in last year. However, a change of heart thanks to a crushing win in Ireland over two miles has left her in the Champion Hurdle, and the most likely challenger to Buveur D’Air. The champion has been there and done it before twice, can he make it three in a row? He rates as one of the best chances Nicky Henderson has at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
Perhaps Henderson’s best chance of a winner all week is Altior, who is back looking to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for a second year. He won his 17th race in a row at Ascot in January, and after a perfect build-up, he is going to be very hard to beat in the race. There is even talk of some horses swerving the race and moving up in trip to avoid him, with Fox Norton, who was behind him at Ascot, being one of those.
Altior is nothing else other than a remarkable horse, and based on everything we have seen from him so far, you could argue that the trip of two miles which he runs over is not his best. The yard have been tempted to move him up in trip and go over three miles but they have decided against it. When you have a horse that is so dominant, it is very difficult to change things and it is unlikely they will do too much to change things for Altior, and they cannot be blamed for that when he is proving to be so good over two miles.
Aside from the top two chances they have, there are many other horses trained by Henderson that have chances at the festival, and seeing him with multiple winners of the week would not be a surprise. Might Bite will head to the Gold Cup as his main hope in the race, and he is looking to go one better than last season when he finished second.
There is a doubt over whether he fully stays the trip around Cheltenham, it looked as though it really tested him last season and that has to be a worry again this season. He hasn’t looked quite right though so far, and on the two occasions we have seen him, he has been disappointing. Last year could have taken a lot more out of the horse than we first thought; the Gold Cup is a tough race and one that takes a long time to recover from. Native River broke his heart coming up the Cheltenham hill at the finish, and it would be no surprise to find out that Might Bite was still reeling from that.
If you are looking for a day when Henderson could take the Cheltenham Festival by storm then it is certainly the first day. Alongside Buveur D’Air running in the feature on day one, he has two other big chances on the opening day. Angels Breath has been nothing but impressive in his young career so far, and the opening race of the festival, the Supreme Novice Hurdle looks to be his target at the meeting. Later on the card, we have the four-mile National Hunt Chase and of all the entries in that race right now, Nicky Henderson looks to have a horse that is tailor-made for it in the shape of OK Corral. He won impressively over three miles last time out and looked as though he would relish going over further, which makes him of huge interest to punters.
Team Henderson looks to be as strong as ever as we head towards the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and multiple winners for him, especially due to his chances on the opening day, would not come as a surprise.