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Nicky Henderson came perilously close to completing the unprecedented Champion Hurdle/Queen Mother Champion Chase/Cheltenham Gold Cup treble with Buveur D’Air, Altior and Might Bite at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago and although the odds of that happening this time around will be considerably longer but there is an upbeat air of optimism at Seven Barrows.
Buveur D’Air is set to bid for a third successive success in the Unibet Champion Hurdle and got his winning sequence back on track in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month whilst the irrepressible Altior maintained his “Winx-like” sequence when notching his 17 straight win over obstacles with a bloodless seven-length victory from Fox Norton in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.
Might Bite remains the joker in the pack as his two runs in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George VI Chase at Kempton have not shown him anywhere near his best but Henderson has quite often slipped out an ace from under his sleeve and the vibes from the stable suggest you ignore last year’s Gold Cup runner-up (currently a 20-1 shot) at your peril.
However, it is the future which concerns the ever-enthusiastic Henderson and there was a boyish glow when he spoke about his novice hurdling division which includes, Angels Breath, Birchdale, Champ and Downtown Getaway to name just a few.
Henderson said: “We have a solid team and some really good novice hurdlers and that means I will have to go one for three, four and five years as that is when they will be at their best.
“We have been frustrated with our running plans and were unable to run quite a few last weekend due to the vaccination problems that have arisen and we are trying to get runs into many of them before the Festival.
“We are out of sync a bit after last week as we had to stop and give them vaccinations. I like to give them three or four quiet days after they’ve been vaccinated as you just can’t go off and them and at the same time you have to go on. However, they are back in work and I don’t think it’s done any real damage.
“As we say every year if we can get one on the first day then we can sit back and enjoy it – it’s just like a cricketer you want to get the runs on the board when the first balls are bowled.”
Here, Henderson guides Tony Elves of attheraces.com through his star-studded team which he hopes will put in another fine display at Prestbury Park in March.