Nicky Henderson believes the best is yet to come from Santini over fences after reporting him to be thriving in his build up towards the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Having scrambled home on his seasonal return in a Listed event at Sandown, Santini laid down a serious marker for the blue riband with victory over Bristol De Mai in last month’s Cotswold Chase.
As a result he is the the general 5/1 second-favourite for the March showpiece, and Henderson said: “Santini is in terrific form since he has been back. He is crazy fresh. It was a good test and they thought Bristol De Mai was in good form.
“It took nothing out of him. We’ve done all we can, which was very pleasing. He had no preparation for the RSA whatsoever last season.
“I admit he wasn’t impressive at Sandown. He wasn’t psyched up for that. I thought he was going to get an easy race and he didn’t and he was sloppy.
“He has got good experience of Cheltenham, as he has been there twice, which is a help. We have just got to make sure we are in good shape and not worry what everyone else is doing.”
Leading RSA contender Champ will bid to bounce back from a fall in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when dropping down in class in the Timeform Novices’ Chase at Kelso on Thursday week.
He said: “Champ will go to Kelso as it is a quieter place for him to go and I just feel we need to go left-handed and I don’t dare go right-handed at Ascot.
“He had a period after the race in the stables afterwards when he was quite lame and they X-rayed his shoulder in the stables after, but there is nothing there now.
“He had a fair fall, but otherwise he has done everything right. It has not knocked his confidence and he has schooled beautifully since.”
With Champ set for a trip north of the border it has opened up the door for stablemate Pym to try to claim a hat-trick of wins over fences in the Grade 2 Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot two days later.
Henderson added: “Pym can go to the Reynoldstown and he very much warrants a step up in class. He has done nothing wrong all year. The step up to three miles has helped and he has been around Ascot.”
Chantry House will bid to book his ticket to the Festival at Newbury on Saturday in the Set Your Own Odds On Betfair Exchange Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson said: “I think he is very good. He might just want an extra half a mile and though it is two on Saturday, it is quite a nice race as he gets a 6lb penalty and not a 10lb one.
“He was green at Cheltenham. He wants experience. A couple of things happened, hold ups, but he wants experience. Hopefully he will have learnt a lot there and will have one more little lesson at Newbury, that’s the plan of it.”
Henderson is leaning towards giving Flinteur Sacre, who is a full-brother to dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sprinter Sacre, the chance to go one better than on his debut at Newbury in a bumper at Kempton on Friday.
He said: “I’ve put him in at Newbury and he could go back there or Kempton. We will probably go to Kempton as he will get better ground.
“He travelled like a very good horse, but he wanted looking after a bit and they think the winner (Your Darling) is very good.
“I wouldn’t normally run a horse back this quick – he is just so fresh and well in himself.”