As the Cheltenham Festival approaches and the ante-post betting markets settle down, it appears that Nicky Henderson is the man currently holding all the aces. The British-based trainer has many chances of success, including the favourites in three of the four championship races that take place at the festival. He heads to the four-day event with huge hopes, making it highly likely that he will be in the winners’ enclosure at some point.
If there was such thing as a Nicky Henderson banker then it would have to be Buveur D’Air in the feature on Tuesday, the Champion Hurdle. He was a hugely impressive winner of the race in 2017 and, if anything, he looks to have a slightly easier task this season. Many of his opponents have question marks surrounding them, and it would be a huge racing shock to see any horse other than Buveur D’Air heading back to the winners’ enclosure after the Champion Hurdle. He will be a short-priced favourite on the day but, based on what we have seen, that price is fully justified.
The second of Henderson’s Championship fancies is Altior, a hugely promising youngster that has only raced once this season due to injury. The gelding looked as good as ever when winning on his reappearance at Newbury at the beginning of February. He is another that will open up a short-priced favourite, with the lack of viable opposition contributing to that. The Cheltenham Betting Guide 2018 provides punters with a look at all of the horses taking on Altior but, provided he remains fit and healthy, he is another that is going to take all the beating. Should a horse beat him at the Festival, it is likely to come from the Willie Mullins yard, with Min (7/2 with Betfair), Douvan (9/2 with William Hill) and Un De Sceaux (12/1 with William Hill) all close to the head of the betting.
The biggest betting race of the week is always the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Nicky Henderson’s third championship race favourite runs in this one. The horse is Might Bite, who is currently a best price of 4/1 for the race with Betfair and Boylesports. He is an enigmatic bay gelding that has shown his quirks in the past. From falling at the last fence to nearly throwing away the RSA Chase here last season, we have seen it all from him. Despite those shortcomings, he is hugely talented and a horse that commands a lot of respect in this field. Again, like the other Henderson championship runners, his price is based on both his ability and the question marks hanging over other runners.
The Gold Cup field has lost a couple of potential winners already this season, and last year’s winner Sizing John (6/1 with William Hill and Ladbrokes) ran disappointingly in Ireland recently. That means the only real threat could come from Native River, who is generally the second favourite for the race right now, with Betfair offering the best price of 13/2. He ran third last season but has been kept fresh for the race this season and that could be the difference maker with him.
There doesn’t appear to be another trainer out there with the same firepower as Nicky Henderson right now, especially in the Championship races. A lot of focus and attention will be on him over the coming days to ensure his string are 100% fit and ready to go when the big day arrives.