Buveur D’Air (Noel Fehily) wins the Champion HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Buveur and Bite part of Henderson Aintree team
NICKY HENDERSON has made clear his desire to take the jumps trainers' championship back from Paul Nicholls, with his challenge set to be helped by the likely presence of Cheltenham Festival champions Buveur D'Air and Might Bite at Aintree in a fortnight's time.
Arkle winner Altior could be kept back for the Bet365 Celebration Chase on the season's final day at Sandown, but Top Notch and Whisper are others poised to join a Seven Barrows Liverpool squad which is also expected to include a single Randox Health Grand National runner in the shape of outsider Cocktails At Dawn.
Henderson interrupted Nicholls' run of ten trainers' championships when stealing the crown in April 2013, Henderson's first since he successfully defended his own title 26 years earlier.
Although Nicholls has nibbled into some of the lead Henderson created at Cheltenham, Lambourn's most powerful stable remains well over £100,000 in front, leaving Henderson no bigger than 1-2 and Nicholls - whose only festival success came with Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter - a best-priced 6-4.
"There's no point me saying I don't want to win the title, because of course I would love to be champion again," said Henderson. "Rather like in a race, second doesn't really count for a lot or do much for me, so we'll give it a go.
"The title is never a factor until after Cheltenham, and maybe not even until after Aintree because the Grand National could change the whole picture. It's very nice to be in front at the moment, though, and it would be very nice if we stay in front. Having said that, we won't start doing things that wouldn't be right for the horses.
"Paul and I are good mates and we'll be seeing plenty of each other over the coming weeks. If we're still hanging around together at Sandown you can be sure that will have been after a good six weeks of entertainment."
Cocktails At Dawn: will be Nicky Henderson's representitive in the NationalPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Few horses provided as much entertainment at Cheltenham as Might Bite. Having thrown away a massive lead at Kempton when falling at the Kauto Star Novices' Chase's last fence, he almost did the same in the RSA Chase when practically pulling himself up after again getting his final leap wrong. He went on to narrowly deny stablemate Whisper, earning a Racing Post Rating of 170, the race's best for ten years and only 4lb shy of Sizing John's Gold Cup-winning mark.
"In his own way he has put up extraordinary performances at Kempton and Cheltenham," said Henderson, who could direct Might Bite towards the £100,000 Betway Mildmay Novices' Chase on April 7.
"At Kempton he was quicker than Thistlecrack was in the King George. They just couldn't go with him. He was doing the same thing at Cheltenham. It looked like he was going to win in unbelievable style until he made a fool of things.
"At home he is very sensible and doesn't give you a clue he'd behave as he has on the racecourse. Maybe he just takes his eye off the ball. I've no real explanation for it and I've no remedy for it either.
"He would certainly have the pace to travel around Aintree, where I would think Whisper will go as well as he won the Aintree Hurdle twice. Top Notch would almost certainly head to the two-and-a-half-miler there."
Might Bite: did his best to thrown away the RSA ChasePICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
The £200,000 Betway Aintree Hurdle is the target for Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'Air, whose opponents could include top-class mare Apple's Jade.
"It's the obvious race for Buveur, who seems very well," added Henderson.
"We wouldn't want to go too late with him as if the ground dries up it would be no good to him. We had been thinking of upping him in trip for the two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle at Aintree last year and I do think that trip at that track would be perfect for him.
"We'll head to Aintree with plenty of horses and we also have a few ideas for Ayr, including the Scottish Champion Hurdle for L'Ami Serge and maybe Peace And Co, too. We'll try to win a Grand National of some description, but I doubt it will be the Aintree one as my only chance is Cocktails At Dawn.
"I would have thought Sandown might be the place for Altior. I suppose I might have seen him sharper than he was in the Arkle but he did go right away up the hill. The further he went the further he went clear and he certainly wasn't stopping."