Henderson names his dream team
If last year's campaign was looked at from a purely statistical view, the one enjoyed by Nicky Henderson would appear to similar to those he has been accustomed to on a regular basis in recent seasons.
Sprinter Sacre with Nicky Henderson
However, while his prize-money total topped the £1million barrier for the ninth season in a row, rarely will the Seven Barrows handler have experienced a more emotional time of it in his long and distinguished career.
In what was arguably one of his finest achievements, the former champion trainer coaxed the magnificent Sprinter Sacre back to somewhere near his best to reclaim the Champion Chase crown he so majestically won in 2013 at the Cheltenham Festival on his penultimate start in March.
With the 10-year-old, who was unbeaten in four outings last term, back in training ready to defend his Champion Chase crown Henderson is hoping he can keep his popular warrior back in good shape ready for the big occasion.
He said: "Sprinter was unbelieveable. It was something else, to be honest with you. I think everyone enjoyed it more than I did. He is a bit special. It is wonderful when they do come back and it doesn't happen very often.
"He has become a very public horse. It means a lot to us. It gives us a lot of support and Caroline Mould a lot of support. Everyone is rather fond of this horse.
"It's to the horse's credit, really. If they have got that sort of talent I suppose that is why we persevered as it would have been a shame to let it go to waste.
"If he hadn't shown us what he was showing us this time last year we would not have done it again. We would have said it was great fun. I'm not saying he is what he was, but by the time we got to Sandown at the end of the season he was very nearly as good as I've ever seen him.
"He was a better horse at Sandown than he was at Cheltenham.
"The only thing we do know about this season is that we've got Douvan in front of him and that is going to be entertaining, whatever happens. I don't know what he is planning on doing, I saw that he might be thinking about doing the Gold Cup. You tell him to run in that, he can have that!
"Sprinter will go straight to the Tingle Creek. He will not have many races this year, I think."
Given the rejuvenation of Sprinter Sacre, the Grade One successes of both Altior and Buveur D'Air could easily be overlooked such was the headlines made by their more illustrious stablemate.
Having ended trainer Willie Mullins' quest for a fourth straight win in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March, a switch to fences is now on the horizon for Altior
Henderson said: "He has schooled over fences. Nothing has changed our mind at the moment and we are flexible, but the plan is to go chasing. I think he is very good at it and that is what we will do.
"We will just start in a two-mile novice chase whenever we feel like it. There is no agenda, there is only one race and that's in March and you can guess where it is and what it is.
"We can just plot our route according to when the weather comes, but everything has gone well.
"He is top class, there is no doubt. You could have very easily gone down the Champion Hurdle road. He is six and his age was the deciding factor. If he didn't go chasing this year he never would. Chasing is what he is there for and that is what we are going to let him do."
Although Buveur D'Air had to settle for third behind Altior at Prestbury Park, the five-year-old, who is now owned by JP McManus, gained a deserved big-race victory at Aintree the following month, a tally he will bid to add to over fences this season.
Henderson added: "We are leaning to going down the novice chase route. It is very possible that they will need the same races, too. We've schooled him, Barry (Geraghty) came in early in the month to school him and AP (McCoy) schooled him before that over fences. He has been very good.
"He is a very talented horse and he might just get two and a half miles. If you go two and a half miles over fences you have got much more opportunity than you have over hurdles."
Back in December 2009 Henderson introduced French Grade One winner Long Run to Britain for what was to be the start of a career that would see him win two King George Chases and a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
This season he looks set to unleash another potential top-class performer from across the Channel, who like Long Run already brings a high level of form to the table, in the shape of the McManus-owned mare Kotkikova.
He said: "She is a gorgeous mare. I don't know much about her yet but we have been schooling. Like a lot of the French horses she has a lot of French habits and I just want to try iron them out a bit. She is doing that very well. We have the option of going over hurdles or fences.
"There is no great rush and we will leave all those options open. She could go either way.
"It will be very interesting to see how far she will stay. At the moment you be looking at two and a half. I'm sure she wants cut in the ground and we will just creep along.
"She could be anything from a Champion Chaser, a Gold Cup horse or a Mares' Hurdle horse, if that's what she is that's what she will do."
Nicky Henderson with an insight on the rest of his big hopes for the season:
"He had a good year but he has got a lot of things to learn in life. He jumping was not all it should be. He is perfectly capable of it, but he is just a bit wayward at times. It was a very good run he had at Punchestown. He has schooled very well over fences and he will go novice chasing. I would have thought we would start him off over two and a half and he is not slow, either."
"He is back and will go novice chasing. He has had one run in a novice chase at Aintree which he was third in. He got a horrible over-reach and tried to chop his leg off. Luckily that is OK and he is still a novice over fences. "
COCKTAILS AT DAWN
"He is going well. He is so high in the handicap I thought I might keep him for the Grand National. I just think he is the right horse for the National. He wants good ground and we just hope it remains that way."
CONSUL DE THAIX
"He didn't win last year. He had one run in France and two in England. He is a novice for this year. We purposely pitched him in quite deep.
"He starts the season with a bit of experience and as a novice. He is cantering and looks great.
"He wants cut in the ground as he is not a top of the ground horse. He is waiting for the rain. He has grown into an impressive individual."
"I like him. We did give him a run over hurdles at the end of the season which he should have won but he was very novicey and very green. He will be fine, though. He will just take in novice hurdles up and down the country. He doesn't need to go anywhere smart to start with. He is the sort of horse I just want to win a race with and get him going."
"There is a beginners' chase at Newbury over two miles and six furlongs and that would be perfect for him. He looked a very good horse at Ascot.
"It was a bit stupid of me to let him loose that day. I should have kept him for the Coral Cup as he would have won the Coral on what he did at Ascot. Still, it was a good performance. Having said that it was terribly disappointing at Aintree. I think he is very good, there is no doubt about that."
"He was a good bumper horse and has been out for two years. He had one run over hurdles and luckily he got beaten, although he shouldn't have been. It leaves him a maiden, as he got beaten then came back with a problem. He has had two years out of it which is fine and it has done him the world of good."
"He has already run twice this season. He had difficult year but he is in the same boat as Top Notch. He would jump fence if we wanted him to but he would only be going around the little tracks as he is a little horse.
"He is still a very good hurdler and I think he will get more than two miles. It takes lot to get him fit. He is tough, solid and game."
"We don't know much about him but he was impressive when he won his bumper at Bangor. I knew his dam better than I know him. She was a good mare and he is quite like her. He is exciting and has been schooling, but has only just started doing things. I do like him."
"I hope he is good. He looked it last year and he always showed us that he was. I would have been disappointed if he hadn't done something like he did at Newbury. The whole point of Newbury was to get experience for Ireland. The Irish race didn't quite go according to plan.
"He goes straight over hurdles, has schooled and is coming on well. There is no great rush with him but he handles most ground and he would be out at the beginning of November."
"He looks fantastic. He is hard to place, I admit. I wouldn't mind keeping him at two and a half. He is just in that bracket where he is not quite up to those Grade Ones but he is the top of every handicap. Life is quite difficult for him.
"Kempton was great for him. It did him and us the world of good. Good ground is important to him and hopefully all being well he still has a big future over fences."
"She is a good filly. She won an ordinary bumper at Fakenham then she won the big mares' bumper at Aintree. She has got her black type and all that is done.
"We would have to hope that she could be top class in the mares' division and being very optimistic the Trull House Stud Mares' Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham might be on the agenda."
"The trouble with him is that he has had a tendency to want go left handed and you wouldn't want to run him right handed. I'd just quite like to iron that out and he has been away for a jumping session for a week to try and help him. I don't know what happened at Warwick that day but he came back and ran a great race at the Festival. He can start off in one of the graduation chases and we will work away from there."
MY TENT OR YOURS
"He had his year off and had all sorts of issues last year and this time last year he had sore shins and awful things going on. We got through that and got going. We didn't have a chance to get a run into him before Cheltenham that's why we did all those gallops at Kempton and that's why his run was fantastic. We weren't very fair to him afterwards I have to admit.
"We bypassed chasing last year and he is too old for that now. His racing technique is not built for fences."
O O SEVEN
"He is set to go novice chasing and I hope he might be very good. It was fantastic run in Ireland but he had been good all year. He got three miles when we took him to that trials day at Musselburgh. He stayed then. He got into the race too soon at Cheltenham I thought he run an excellent race at Punchestown and has already schooled very well.
"He probably will finish up over three miles."
PROTEK DES FLOS and FIXE LE KAP
"Protek Des Flos is going to go novice chasing. We are going to go down the four-year-old novice chase route. He and Fixe Le Kap are going to go down the same road.
"Fixe Le Kap and Protek being as they are four-year-olds, the second season is so difficult. Either your are a Grade One horse or no horse.
"They were not Grade One hurdlers but they were certainly up to Grade Two standard.
"If they are not going to be that (Grade One hurdlers) they might as well do that as they are both built to jump fences. They both definitely need cut in the ground and are soft ground horses. They are typical French horses."
"We are cracking on and he is cantering away. He would get further but two would be good enough the first time. He wants a good gallop to try and settle off. He ran a fantastic race in Ireland."
"He can run in those graduation chases. Horses like him have to have these races to help them come through otherwise they will just get killed off in handicaps and never be heard of again. There is one at Kempton for him over two and a half and that's where he will start, I hope, and take it from there.
"Again he has got a bit to learn about it but he has been very good. It was still a good run in the Arkle and I'm sure he would have been third if he hadn't come down.
"He wants two and a half. I know his last run was over hurdles, but he is back over fences and has already schooled well. You would hope the Ryanair might be the one later on for him."
VYTA DU ROC
"He was very good in the Reynoldstown. I think he is brewing up to be a very good staying chaser. He might well be a National horse one day and I'd like to think along those lines.
"He is doing well. Daryl (Jacob) gets on with him well and he gave him a lovely ride at Ascot. He has run some very good races. There is a good handicap at Ascot at the start of the season and we might be thinking of starting there."
"The year before last he drove me mad but he came good at the end and won the Aintree Hurdle again. Then last year he drove me mad all year and we never got the corner turned with him. He is back and looks great. I wouldn't rule out jumping a fence with him again. He did have one run over fences but we knew he wasn't firing, it was to see if we could get him lit up a bit. We have popped him over a little fence already and he was very good."
"He was a top-class bumper horse and is back in action. Like Gaitway he has had time out. He won the same bumper that Sprinter Sacre won on Scottish National Day at Ayr. He is ready to start over hurdles and has shown us plenty of pace. I suspect good ground will suit but he really is something to look forward to this winter."
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