Cheltenham Festival: 11 Nicky Henderson Grade 1 runners for 2021

Nicky Henderson is bringing a formidable squad to Cheltenham Festival

Nicky Henderson Altior Santini

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Nicky Henderson is the second most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, having saddled 68 winners so far.

That is only four less than record-holder Willie Mullins, and the Seven Barrows handler will be hoping to close the gap at this year’s meeting.

Henderson has lined up a star-studded string for the 2021 Festival, so Paddy Power have taken a closer look at some of his main Grade 1 contenders.

Remember, we’re offering non-runner money back on every single race at Prestbury Park so you don’t lose out if your selection withdraws.

Shishkin – Arkle Chase

SHISHKIN has an unbeaten record over fences, winning his three previous starts by a combined total of more than 44 lengths in a stunning debut chasing campaign.

That comes on the back of a remarkable victory in the 2020 Supreme Novice Hurdle and the seven-year-old now has his sights set on the Arkle Chase.

Nicky Henderson: “It’s amazing how this race has changed. Three or four weeks ago Shishkin was odds-on and everyone was saying it would be boring, but all of a sudden Willie (Mullins) has come along with his 2m novice (Energumene) and I think Allmankind was impressive again at Warwick.

“There’s a real fight on now and I think people are seeing it as one of the big headline clashes of the week. He’s got a couple of bits of work to do and will have another school. Everything is fairly well on course at the moment.”

Shishkin Nico de Boinville Kempton December 30, 2020

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Buveur D’Air – Champion Hurdle

BUVEUR D’AIR is a dual Champion Hurdle winner but is something of a forgotten horse in this year’s market after missing the whole of 2020 due to injury.

The 10-year-old was second on his first start for 420 days in January and will hope to build on that at Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson: “We’ve always in the past used the Contenders’ Hurdle at Sandown with him, but I felt we were about a fortnight ahead (of schedule) so we went to Haydock. The ground that day was horrible and it just found him out.

“It did him the world of good – I think people have forgotten about him. He’s out with the washing at the moment (in the betting), whereas Epatante is sharing the favourite line with Honeysuckle and Goshen now as well. It’s going to be very competitive.”

Epatante – Champion Hurdle

EPATANTE was brilliant when winning the Champion Hurdle last season and put in a similarly impressive display to claim victory in a disrupted Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on her seasonal reappearance.

However, the seven-year-old was below-par during a shock defeat to Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and has had treatment for a back issue since. She will need to be at her best to challenge Honeysuckle and Goshen in this year’s Champion Hurdle renewal.

Nicky Henderson: “She was very, very good in the Fighting Fifth. Christmas just didn’t go her way but fair play to Silver Streak – he was very good.

“She looked wonderful at Newcastle. If we have her back to that level then she’ll have as good a chance as any.”

Epatante Aidan Coleman Kempton December 26, 2020

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Dame De Compagnie – Mares’ Hurdle

DAME DE COMPAGNIE won the Coral Cup last year and followed that up with victory on her chase debut at Ayr but unseated at Sandown in February and now looks set to revert back to hurdles at Cheltenham.

This has partly been triggered by the presence of another JP McManus runner – Elimay – in the Mares’ Chase but things won’t be easy against Concertista in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson: “We were a bit short of opportunities with Dame De Compagnie so we had to throw her into a Grade One (over fences), which was a bit of a baptism really. The fall did her no harm, and I don’t see why she shouldn’t come back over hurdles.

“She showed in the Coral Cup that two and a half miles is her trip and I think it’s a good call. We can always go back over fences, and she’s not ready for the Mares’ Chase as yet. JP has the favourite for that, so we’re just trying to split the troops.”

Veradana Blue – Mares’ Hurdle

VERDANA BLUE holds an entry in the Champion Hurdle but doesn’t seem to have the speed for such a competitive contest and is far more likely to run in the Mares’ Hurdle after an underwhelming season.

Two second places behind Silver Streak and Mrs Hyde were followed by a poor run in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, and she will have to improve significantly to threaten the favourite.

Nicky Henderson: “She is in good form and she is also entered in the Champion Hurdle.

“We know she likes good ground, but when you look at the way she has been racing, especially on the flat when she was a good third in the Ebor, we think she could be suited by the extra half a mile in this.”

Altior – Queen Mother Champion Chase

The star name in Henderson’s stable, ALTIOR is a Cheltenham expert with four festival wins under his belt but has been suffering the effects of an exhausting defeat to Cyrname at Ascot in November 2019.

The 11-year-old won on his first outing back after that run, at Newbury in February a year ago, but was beaten by Nube Negra at Kempton last time out and it remains to be seen if he can recapture the magic from past seasons in the latest renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Nicky Henderson: “Altior could not be better and I’m very, very happy. His whole demeanour is in a better place than he has been this year. It hasn’t been easy and having looked invincible, luck hasn’t gone his way.

“I am very happy with where Altior is. He will have one more bit of work here and he is fit and seems very well. Chacun Pour Soi and plenty of others will be there but he is still there and will be sharper this time. There will be a battle and I am looking forward to it.”

Altior

Ruby Walsh: Altior withdrawal will be justified by Champion Chase victory

Chantry House – Marsh Novices’ Chase

CHANTRY HOUSE has had an inconsistent season following his third-place finish in last year’s Supreme, wining twice at Ascot and Wetherby but also putting in a disappointing display behind Fusil Raffles at Cheltenham between those outings.

The seven-year-old is aimed at the Marsh Novices’ Chase, where he will unfortunately face one of the most dominant novice chasers around in Envoi Allen.

Nicky Henderson: “I was very pleased with Chantry House at Wetherby the other day. He was very impressive first time out at Ascot, and if you go back to last year he was a very good third in the Supreme, and we always felt he needed further.

“We then went to Cheltenham, and he was very disappointing and completely forgot his jumping. He had a bit of surgery on his back and he did really well because Wetherby was only eight weeks after we’d corrected his back, so that was a pretty quick turnaround. I thought he jumped beautifully and travelled very well on horrible ground. He stays, touch wood he jumps, and the only problem is Envoi Allen!”

Fusil Raffles – Marsh Novices’ Chase

Like Chantry House, FUSIL RAFFLES looks set to have his Cheltenham dreams dashed by the unbeaten Envoi Allen in this year’s Marsh Novices’ Chase.

The six-year-old has won three from four starts this season – his only blemish when pulled up at Prestbury Park in November – but he is up against it at the Festival.

Nicky Henderson: “I absolutely adore him, he is a wonderful character of a horse. He has done nothing wrong all season. We purposely gave him a break as he goes well fresh.

“He is fit and well. Normally I’d say my two [Fusil Raffles and Chantry House] have a great chance, but Envoi Allen appears to be the Irish banker.”

Fusil Raffles Daryl Jacob Cheltenham October 23, 2020

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Mister Fisher – Ryanair Chase

MISTER FISHER appears to have found his feet over fences with an excellent win in the rescheduled Peterborough Chase and now looks set for a tilt at the Ryanair Chase.

He was given a runout with Altior recently and Henderson has been pleased with his work over obstacles.

Nicky Henderson: “I like to think he has got a very good shout in this. He won the Peterborough which was switched to Cheltenham from Huntingdon.

“He is one who would like good ground. If he gets some decent ground he will be very competitive. He is a lovely horse, he has a great temperament and attitude.”

Champ – Cheltenham Gold Cup

CHAMP was runner-up in the 2019 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle before pulling off a stunning win in last year’s RSA and should be a real contender in the Gold Cup.

The nine-year-old has struggled for fitness this campaign but put in decent shift to finish second in the Game Spirit on his first start of the season and Henderson is hoping he has warmed up nicely for the festival.

Nicky Henderson: “If Newbury was held on the original weekend he would have run in the Denman Chase, but with it being a week closer to Cheltenham we chose to run in the Game Spirit because we didn’t want him to have a hard race over three miles first time out.

“Champ at home and Champ on a racecourse is two different horses. He does absolutely nothing here, but he sparks up when he steps on a racecourse. His jumping at Newbury was exceptional, we all came away very happy and he has come back fine.”

Gold Cup potential runners and latest news for Cheltenham Festival 2021

Santini – Cheltenham Gold Cup

It’s been a case of ‘so near yet so far’ for SANTINI at Cheltenham, placing at three festivals including second in last year’s Gold Cup.

He’s struggled to get into a rhythm this campaign and looked out of sorts in the Cotswold Chase so will need to show a big improvement if he’s going to challenge for victory this time around.

Nicky Henderson: “Santini has had a difficult season. He started at Aintree when it was essentially a Flat race when they took the fences out. We then had no intention of running him in the King George, but there was just too much of a gap between Aintree and the Cotswold. He’s not a horse that sits still – he loves racing.

“Not surprisingly he found the track sharper than ideal, but it was still a good exercise for him. Then the Cotswold Chase was off, Sandown took it on, but the ground was desperate. I was satisfied with him in third.

“I’m very happy with Santini as it’s been a difficult winter with him. It’s not as if he’s coming in off three wins, but this is what he’s been waiting for.”

*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widget, while in-copy odds are accurate at the time of publication but subject to change

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL‘S BIG RACES

March 16 – 13.20 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 16 – 13.55 – Arkle Chase latest odds and tips

March 16 – 15.05 – Champion Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 16 – 15.40 – Mares’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 17 – 13.20 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 17 – 13.55 – Festival Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips

March 17 – 15.05 – Queen Mother Champion Chase latest odds and tips

March 18 – 13.20 – Marsh Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips

March 18 – 14.30 – Ryanair Chase latest odds and tips

March 18 – 15.05 – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 19 – 13.20 – Triumph Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 19 – 14.30 – Albert Bartlett Novices’ Chase latest odds and tips

March 19 – 15.05 – Gold Cup latest odds and tips

March 19 – 16.15 – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase latest odds and tips

*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.

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