Nicky Henderson sits just behind Willie Mullins in the all-time trainers winners list for the Cheltenham Festival and he heads into the upcoming 2021 edition with high hopes that his team of recruits from the Irish point-to-point field can add to his current tally of 68 winners.
Horses such as Simonsig and Shishkin have brought him previous Festival success, and the latter is once again to the fore in his team for 2021, as he heads into the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy with a 100% record over fences.
The Seven Barrows trainer has given his thoughts on the point-to-point horses that feature in his Cheltenham Festival team beginning with Arkle favourite Shishkin.
Day One – Tuesday 16th March
Sporting Life Arkle Trophy
Four-year-old maiden winner at Lingstown for Virginia Considine
“It’s amazing how this race has gone from about three or four weeks ago, when Shishkin was odds on and everyone saying it was going to be boring. All of a sudden Willie (Mullins) has come along with Energumene and that’s arrived on the scene and I think Allmankind was impressive again at Warwick. It was only three weeks ago it was boring, and now there’s a real fight on and people are seeing it as one of the big headline clashes of the week.
“I think Shishkin’s performance in the Supreme last year was pretty good because he did get literally taken into the car park at the second last, so to get back in and win was a solid performance. He probably hasn’t had a lot of opposition over fences, but he’s been very clinical and accurate and he’s done it well every time. He comes in having got ten ticks on all three occasions, even if he didn’t have to beat anything very sensational, and he’s had a good run in.
“He’s got a couple of bits of work I’d like to do with him beforehand this weekend and next, and I’d put him on a shortlist to go to Kempton (for a racecourse gallop) if we do that. He’ll have another school, but everything’s fairly on course at the moment.”
National Hunt Chase, also in Brown Advistory Novices’ Chase
Four-year-old maiden winner at Templencarriga for Mick Goff
“He’s never been an easy person, but he had one run over fences at Newbury and ran very well and jumped well. He really needs to back it up again and is in a few, but he might well get a run again before the Festival – and will probably need to.”
Day Two – Wednesday 17th March
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Four-year-old maiden winner at Kirkistown for Jamie Sloan
“I think he’s lovely, and he ran a very good race although he got defeated the other day. I’ve spoken to Mike Grech (owner) and we’ve discussed it, and I think Cheltenham is for another year for him. He belongs there and I hope his career will be around Cheltenham Festivals, but another year.”
Day Three - Thursday March 18th
Marsh Novices’ Chase
Four-year-old maiden winner at Tattersalls for Cian Hughes
“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 last year he was a very good third in the Supreme, and we always felt he needed further. Ascot isn’t a place I would often choose for first time out novice chasers, but he was very good and won well.
“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!
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Four-year-old maiden winner at Quakerstown for Roisin Hickey
“He found jumping fences quite hard last year, and we had to school, school and school. It was difficult, we just brought him back over hurdles for a couple of runs and he went to Haydock the other day for the last Pertemps qualifier. It was the last throw of the dice and he ran a very good race to finish second on very soft ground.
“He does go through flat spots, and I suspect cheekpieces might come back on for this. He did ok and finished well, so we’re thinking and hoping that Cheltenham will be a better track for him.”