It’s that time of the year when National Hunt fans will be slowly assembling their lists of horses to follow for the imminent jumps season and as the wet weather begins to hit and October draws ever closer, the action over the sticks starts to hot up and the elite of the chasing and hurdling world are unleashed with all roads leading to Cheltenham next March.
Nicky Henderson has become the dominant force in the British training ranks in recent times having ended Paul Nicholls seven year domination as the champion jumps trainer lasts season and the Seven Barrows yard look set to unleash another strong battalion of runners at all the premier meetings during the 2013/2014 season. Impossible to single out just one stable star, here are five Henderson horses that are sure to be fighting it out for top honours at the Cheltenham Festival.
Sprinter Sacre will undoubtedly be the first name on everyone’s lips as we head into the new jumps campaign and the unbeaten chaser is fully expected to maintain his unblemished record over larger obstacles this season and with Henderson electing to not step him up in trip, then he could well take a similar path to that of last season.
A sublime performance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase saw him propel into the Cheltenham history books, whilst he had no problem in stepping up to 2m 4f to win the Melling Chase at Aintree, before he emulated the mighty Istabraq by adding a Punchestown Festival win to his season’s achievements to win at the three major meetings on both sides of the Irish Sea and the seven year old could well be heading down the same route again this term and it will require a brave person to oppose the 10 times winner over fences.
Bobs Worth is another who instantly springs to mind when thinking of the Henderson heavyweights and last year’s superb Cheltenham Gold Cup winner is fully expected to head back to Prestbury Park in March and try and retain the coveted crown for a second year. He was only seen twice last season and his win in the Hennessy Gold Cup showed that he blossomed into a top class staying chaser and Henderson has already touched on the fact that he wishes to race him more this season and he is certainly one for the notebook and to look forward to watching.
Simonsig may live in the shadow of the aforementioned duo, but the classy grey showed his class when landing the Arkle Trophy to bag his second Cheltenham Festival win on the bounce following victory in the Neptune Hurdle 12 months previous. The seven year old will now step out of the novice division and tackle the elite of the chasing fraternity.
He may well sidestep some potential clashes with Sprinter Sacre as the season progresses with Henderson’s embarrassment of riches likely to see him dominate a whole host of top notch events, but Simonsig is sure to show his abilities on the track and can’t be underestimated wherever he is taken to run.
One disappointing cog of the Henderson engine last year was Oscar Whisky, who failed to land any sort of a blow in the latter part of the season, but the Dai Walters-owned runner could be sent over fences this season and could well be a classy novice chaser and he may be bound for the Jewson Novices’ Chase and is already the 10/1 ante-post favourite for that event and is certainly one to keep a eye on ahead of his seasonal debut.
With all this new talent emerging at Seven Barrows, one name who has somewhat plummeted down the pecking order is Long Run, but the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner showed when battling to victory in the King George VI Chase that he still is a luminary at the Henderson yard and he is capable of featuring in a number of top events this season. He may be vulnerable to the likes of Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup, but the multiple Grade One winner will be a tough nut to crack at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and connections will be ebullient about his chances of landing another King George.