SIX-time champion jump trainer Nicky Henderson has saddled 70 winners at The Festival, making him the most successful UK-based trainer of all-time and second overall behind Willie Mullins (78 winners). He went through his team at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn on Monday for a stable visit organised by The Jockey Club.

With two wins at the Festival already, Henderson’s leading contender is Shishkin and he is undefeated in seven starts over fences. The Sholokhov gelding was last seen when getting the better of the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene by a length after an epic tussle in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot on 22nd January and is the odds-on favourite for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with the sponsor.

On the opening day, Epatante is bidding to become the third horse to regain the Champion Hurdle this year following on from Comedy Of Errors (1973 & 1975) and Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013).

Henderson is the most successful trainer of all time in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with eight successes: See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D’Air (2017, 2018) and Epatante (2020).

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old mare was third to Honeysuckle in the 2021 Unibet Champion Hurdle. Henderson and McManus have another leading contender for Grade 1 glory with Champ in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.



Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)

There is no way he is going to be a banker. That was a fantastic race (at Ascot). It was great we came out in front but there wasn’t that much in it. It doesn’t seem to have left a mark on Shishkin. He seems in very good form. He hasn’t schooled since but he will do next week.

Willie is going to chuck Chacun Pour Soi in as well. I know they will say he doesn’t travel or do this. He can still be a real player. I would expect the same sort of tactics will be employed by both teams.

Shishkin hasn’t got the exuberance in his jumping of an Altior or a Sprinter Sacre in the way he doesn’t stand off miles away. He is just very quick from A to B.

I don’t think he is a banker whereas in their era (Altior and Sprinter Sacre’s) they probably were bankers. We have definitely got a fight on our hands.

Turning in at Ascot the other day, you would say crikey we are in trouble, but then stamina kicked in as they had gone a good gallop. That is his strength and I’d say the hill would help him.

Willie says he doesn’t know how we will beat Shishkin but I think he is playing games there as I know he is looking forward to having another crack. If one had won by 10 lengths you would have said it would have wrecked the Champion Chase but it hasn’t and it has left the door wide open.



Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Epatante might well go to Kempton (for a work-out) and she is in very good form. We are very happy.

I thought at Kempton she was great and she really did look like her old self. She was hurdling like she always used to and tanked Nico into the race.

She has been in very good form and is in totally different shape to last season where it all went a bit pear shaped. Her form this season has been good but it is the way she has been doing it. Everything has been very professional and she is sharp and good.

Honeysuckle is going to be very hard to beat as she has looked spectacular and faultless the whole way through. It doesn’t look like there is any chink in her armour but we have all had horses like that. All good things do come to an end. Altior got to 19 then all of a sudden things went wrong. You can never say it is unbeatable.



Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1)

He was maybe a little underwhelming on Trials Day. I didn’t think he jumped quite as well as he did at Ascot.

If I can get him back where he was at Ascot, and I think he can, he has got to be thereabouts. He wasn’t as sharp as he was at Ascot. Ascot was his first run in quite a long time as he didn’t really have a race in the Gold Cup so actually his last real race was the Game Spirit at Newbury last season. The general feeling was the less pressure to put on him jumping-wise is to keep the jumping down to a minimum. If you are going to do that you might as well jump hurdles and not fences.

Chantry House


Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1)

He wasn’t earth shattering last time out but we have reason to think we have got a little bit up our sleeves.

If you go back, he hadn’t really had a race since Aintree (last season). Both Nico and AP mulled over cheekpieces to help him in the early stages in the King George and they were probably right but it was the only bit of work he did before the King George that I thought he was flying.

We did put them on in the Cotswold Chase. I don’t say they made a great deal of difference but they helped him focus. He was good and got stuck in. I know the runner-up (Santini) pretty well and he was second in a Gold Cup. It is solid form.

The Gold Cup has opened up a lot and good horses have won good trials. Nothing has absolutely jumped off the front page so it is up for grabs. He is a high class horse and he is a good stayer too.

Constitution Hill




Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

They are both chalk and cheese. Constitution Hill would stand there all day and he would lie down for you. That is the way he behaves through life. He is completely the opposite to Jonbon, who is quite a hyper horse. They (Constitution Hill and Jonbon) worked on Saturday.

It is probably a help Jonbon is in the first race and we will have ways and means of keeping the adrenalin and atmosphere out of him as he will be the one that is on his toes. Jonbon can be a bit keen but there is no danger of Constitution Hill being keen. Cheltenham will suit them both.

Jonbon had a race last time at Haydock and I was pleased with him. He quickened up in horrible ground. By running Constitution Hill again I was never going to find a competitive race.

They will work again this Saturday and the following Saturday. I think they are both very strong. There is no doubt Willie’s are good but our job is to mind our own horses.

Marie’s Rock


Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

I’m quietly looking forward to this. She is pretty good. She gets two and a half. I thought she was an absolute rocket to start with and she went wrong literally a week before Cheltenham when she favourite for the Mares’ Novices Hurdle (in 2021). Last season I couldn’t find her at all.

This season she has come straight back except for the Lanzarote where she jumped into the back of one. She stuck her neck out at Warwick and she galloped right through to the line.

Walking On Air


I Am Maximus


Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Walking On Air is very good. He took Newbury well enough but there was a couple of weeks where he wasn’t quite moving right. I would have liked to have got another run into him but Nico is quite confident if any horse can do it on two runs, it is him as he is so professional.

I Am Maximus form is very good. I thought we nearly got him (Hillcrest) in trouble going to the last. He (Hillcrest) might have known a bit more or stayed better but it was still a good performance.



Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

There is no doubt it will help him going the other way round. I think a lot of people were surprised I went right-handed again (at Exeter) after his first effort. It was one of those days at Leicester where there were not really any fences down the back straight. It was a good lesson.

Nico was very pleased with him at Exeter. It wasn’t that he needed a horse on the outside, he just needed company.

He has been schooling a lot. He has got to learn to go straight with his jumping. He was as straight as a gun barrel, once with a horse on his left, once with a horse on his right and once on his own.

Bravemansgame is going to be one of Britain’s bankers. You have got to take him on and I think that is his race.

Mister Fisher


Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)

Considering the ground, I thought Mister Fisher ran a good race last time out. He would go for the Ryanair if the ground was decent enough.

Mister Coffey


Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Mister Coffey could easily run in the Kim Muir. He is a good solid fellow, looks like he wants to go left handed and jumps well. I do like him.

First Street


Broomfield Burg


Balco Coastal


McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle

First Street will definitely be in. He is pretty smart. I would think the same thing would be on the agenda for Broomfield Burg. He was a bit disappointing at Newbury as I didn’t think there was a lot between them at the time. He came there at the second last and didn’t finish it out quite so well. Balco Coastal, I couldn’t make my mind up whether it was stamina that ran out (last time) as he came to win the race to be fair. He could come into one of the handicaps.