Might Bite 'looks unbelievable' as Henderson plots path to King George
There might be a million good reasons for Might Bite to run at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, but Nicky Henderson is open-minded where one of the stars of the last jumps season begins a campaign that has the 32Red King George VI Chase inked in as a major target.
Henderson, odds-on to claim a fifth trainers' title this term, was speaking as he paraded 100 horses in front of around 340 owners and supporters at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn on Sunday.
They included leading lights Altior and Buveur D'Air along with Might Bite, who was in the process of producing a blistering performance in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton last Christmas but fell at the final fence. In March he nearly threw away victory in the RSA Novices' Chase at Cheltenham when hanging dramatically right on the run-in to allow stablemate Whisper a whiff of victory, only to rally for a memorable success.
Owned by The Knot Again Partnership, he was much more professional in Aintree's Mildmay Novices' Chase and is vying for favouritism with Thistlecrack for the King George and is a general 10-1 chance for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – the last two legs in Jockey Club Racecourses' Chase Triple Crown, which starts with the Betfair Chase.
Connections of any horse to land all three will pocket a £1 million bonus and Henderson said: "The King George is going to be his first main objective and that's on the grounds of what he was going to do in the Kauto Star had he not fallen at the last – it would have been a mighty performance.
"It doesn't look like he's going very quickly when you're watching him, but he must be because two-thirds of the way through they [the opposition] have had it.
"The £1 million bonus is very commendable and the point of it being there is to attract the King George horses – you can't win it if you don't win the first leg, so everyone is going to want to turn up at Haydock and we could, as the Betfair Chase has its attractions, but I'm not convinced it's the best place for him to start.
"This horse might just be better suited to having, if possible, an easier preparation race for the King George, rather than what is likely to be a very tough race at Haydock.
"He does have his idiosyncrasies and maybe it's not the right road in if we can find an easier introduction, but it's a possibility and he looks unbelievable and Toby [Lawes, assistant] says he feels great."
Might Bite summered at Hillwood Stud with Altior, who emulated his flawless hurdling career by going unbeaten over fences, winning the Racing Post Arkle and Sandown's Grade 1 Celebration Chase on his final two starts of the season.
Comparisons with Henderson's former star two-mile chaser Sprinter Sacre, who was retired last year, were inevitable and the trainer cautions "he has a long way to go to fill Sprinter's shoes, but only because they were very big shoes".
His intended starting point is the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December and all roads lead to the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, for which he is the 6-4 favourite.
Henderson, who is likely to resist the temptation to step up the athletic son of High Chaparral in trip for the King George, added: "In between the Tingle Creek and Cheltenham there's the Desert Orchid, Clarence House and Game Spirit, but we'll take one step at a time. He and [second favourite] Douvan have never met, so that'd be the big clash and you'd rather like it to be in the Champion Chase and not before. The one thing you might do is look at the Melling Chase at Aintree if you were ever going to try Altior over two and a half miles."
Henderson also has the ace in the Stan James Champion Hurdle pack in Buveur D'Air, who gave the trainer an outright record sixth success in hurdling's most prestigious prize in March.
His early-season options include Newcastle's Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham, although owner JP McManus's hurdling riches include stablemate My Tent Or Yours, who chased home Buveur D'Air in the Champion and Aintree Hurdle and was also second in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, and Philip Hobbs's Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil.
"It was a top-class performance from Buveur at Cheltenham and he's right up there with our other Champion Hurdle winners," reflected Henderson.
"If Tent had won in Ireland, which he could have done had the winner Wicklow Brave not escaped, we would have won the English, French and Irish Champion Hurdles – that would have been a good treble."
L'Ami Serge, who provided Henderson with his 100th Grade 1 winner in the French Champion Hurdle during the summer, will be treated as a Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle contender, giving the stable "realistic players" in each of Cheltenham's championship events.
"On what happened in France you've got to think about those staying hurdles," said Henderson, rightly proud his faith in the seven-year-old had been vindicated.
'Those big boys need a trouble-free year'
Henderson, who rebounded in style after a grey November weekend last year when he was forced to retire Sprinter Sacre and saw Simonsig fatally injured at Cheltenham, played down talk of the trainers' title, but acknowledged what is on the Seven Barrows teamsheet is "very exciting".
The 66-year-old, in playful mood when outlining the 2,855 domestic jumps winners he has trained, said: "We've got some lovely horses, but everything has got to go right. Those big boys need a trouble-free year and we've got to find a few more of them because they alone can't do it."
>>Nicky Henderson's Horses in Training Brochure 2017-18 is available to buy for £15 including P&P from 01242 226558 or via firstname.lastname@example.org