With the Festival just around the corner, we take a look of some of the stars that six-time Champion trainer Nicky Henderson will sending into battle at Prestbury Park.
Altior – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
The four-time Festival winner returns to Cheltenham after missing last year’s meeting due to injury. Altior is not the unstoppable force that he used to be, but his record over obstacles is still mightily impressive, winning 20 of his 22 starts. He did suffer a shock defeat on his season reappearance in the Desert Orchid Chase to Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, and there were questions that maybe he would be better suited for the Ryanair Chase this time around. However, Henderson has stood his ground and made it clear that Altior will be attempting to win a third Champion Chase, meaning a mouth-watering clash with Chacun Pour Soi is on the cards.
Buzz – Coral Cup
Buzz ran on the flat for four seasons under Hughie Morrison, before joining Nicky Henderson’s yard in late 2019. He has proven to be an interesting contender in strongly-run handicaps for the Lambourn trainer and has utilised his pace from his previous ventures. The seven-year-old has adapted to life over obstacles well, landing three wins in his first six starts overs hurdles. He is being considered for the Betfair Hurdle later on this month as a final run before Cheltenham, so it might be worth seeing how Buzz performs as the potential top weight in that race before making a judgement on the Coral Cup.
Champ – Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
One of the heroes of last year’s Festival, Champ sent the Cheltenham crowd into a frenzy after making up plenty of ground in the final stages to snatch victory in the RSA Chase. The nine-year-old hasn’t been seen yet this season, but is due to race in the Denman Chase later on this month. That run could decide his path to the Festival, as Nicky Henderson has entered the three-time Grade 1 winner into the Cheltenham Gold Cup and (surprisingly) the Stayers’ Hurdle. If all goes to plan, he could be a danger to Al Boum Photo’s hopes of a third straight Gold Cup success.
Dame De Compagnie – Mrs Paddy Power Mares‘ Chase
Last year’s Coral Cup winner got off the mark over fences last month, seeing off Grade 1 winner Cornerstone Lad by 9 lengths on her chase debut at Ayr. Dame De Compagnie holds entries in three races this weekend (Frodon Novices’ Chase, Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase & Towton Novices’ Chase) and the result could well decide which race the eight-year-old is targeted for at the Festival. Henderson has debated whether to send her to the Mares’ Chase but he has stated that it would be asking a lot of her that early on into her chase career. Nonetheless, it would be a cracking race if Dame De Compagnie was to take on the likes of Elimay and Colreevy in the new contest.
Epatante – Unibet Champion Hurdle
Nicky Henderson’s supermare will be returning to the Champion Hurdle to land a third successive victory at the Festival. Epatante was another of Henderson’s stars that suffered a shock defeat over the festive period, as the seven-year-old was seen off by Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle. The mare was found to have a back issue after the race and she won’t race now until the Festival. Henderson remains confident in Epatante’s abilities to land back-to-back successes in the Champion Hurdle, but some believe she can be taken on after being beaten at Kempton.
Santini – Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
Known for his strong staying ability and pinpoint jumping, last year’s Gold Cup runner-up will be returning to the contest with the hope of going one better this time around. Santini is made for the Gold Cup and is still considered Nicky Henderson’s best chance of landing a third success in the race. The nine-year-old did however put up a disappointing effort in the King George in December and there are questions of whether he is still good enough to win the feature race of the Festival. Santini will have one more chance to convince critics in either the rearranged Cotswold Chase or the Grand National Trial, with the hope that he can return back to winning ways.
Shishkin – Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has not put a foot wrong since going novice chasing. Shishkin has landed three wins in three starts over fences, including two Graded successes. The imposing seven-year-old has impressed throughout this season and has all the attributes to become one of the best in the chase division. The short price for the Arkle Chase is fully justified for Nicky Henderson’s rising star, as he just looks unbeatable. Shishkin is a superstar in the making for the Lambourn trainer.