|Wednesday 20th February 2019|
Can Henderson retake the top spot from Mullins at Cheltenham this year?
Racing enthusiasts look forward to the Cheltenham Festival with even greater anticipation that other events for a whole range of reasons. For one thing, it is one of the top jump racing events in the world, for another it signals that spring is finally here and for a third, it is a festival that always has the most intriguing side stories.
As far as that final aspect is concerned, the battle of the trainers is surely the most compelling. This is an event that two trainers have dominated in a way that has never been seen before, and probably never will again. Nicky Henderson has been carrying the mantle of “most successful trainer at Cheltenham” since the 1990s, but last year, he had to hand the crown over to Willie Mullins, whose seven wins in 2018 took him to 61 in total and catapulted him one ahead of the man from Lambourn.
This year, Henderson will be determined to turn the tables and return to what he sees as his rightful position at the top. Which are the horses that could carry him there?
One of the few positives to come out of last year’s festival for Henderson was Altior’s dramatic win in the Champion Chase. In 2018 he was at even money, and over subsequent months, the horse has become stronger and stronger. Cheltenham is a festival in which plenty of newcomers try horse race betting for the first time. While this Paddy Power review will provide some guidance on where to bet, as far as the Champion Chase is concerned, the bookies are united in that they only have eyes for Altior.
Another favourite with the bookies is this nine year old, who cruised to victory in the Hampton Court Novices Chase at Warwick last week. The performance was enough to promote him to favourite, at about 3/1 across most bookmakers. Nicky Henderson acknowledged that OK Corral has been something of a late bloomer. He told reporters: “He's a nine-year-old running in novice chases as he had so many problems as a youngster, but we're on the road now.”
Henderson has a selection of promising novices lined up for Cheltenham, but Champ is one that stands out from the crowd. The seven year old won against the odds in December at Newbury, and followed up with another win in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle. He will go to Cheltenham with less to prove than the rest, and is a deserved favourite in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle.
Santini has been being talked up for the RSA chase for the past month or so. A disappointing result in the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas, in which he came in third despite being odds-on favourite, has done little to rock the bookmakers’ faith in the seven year old. The consensus is that the conditions at Cheltenham will work in his favour, so he’s currently the bookies’ favourite, with most offering pre-ante odds of around 3/1.