Buveur, Altior and Might Bite primed for assault on sport's crown jewels
Nicky Henderson is looking to create more festival history at Cheltenham next month, describing himself as a "lucky boy" as he eyes an unprecedented treble in the three biggest races of the meeting with Buveur D'Air, Altior and Might Bite.
No trainer has ever landed the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same year, but Henderson, who has had more Cheltenham festival winners than anyone else, has the favourites for all three races, with the treble only 12.5-1 with Betfair Sportsbook.
Spearheading a festival team that could number 40 runners are Buveur D'Air and Altior, who are odds-on for the Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Might Bite heads the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The champion jumps trainer downplayed his chances of a terrific treble when hosting the media at his historic Seven Barrows stable on the outskirts of Lambourn on Tuesday, but there was no denying the festival firepower that makes him the envy of his counterparts.
He said: "Unfortunately, I read the other day – and I probably didn't need reminding – that during my days with Fred [Winter] we had the three favourites one year and guess what happened?"
"The Dikler beat Pendil in the Gold Cup, Inkslinger beat Crisp in the Champion Chase and Comedy Of Errors beat Bula in the Champion Hurdle. There you go, you went in with three favourites and came out with zilch.
"You always say you'd settle for one and what you do settle for is a winner on day one. It's amazing what it does if you can get any winner on the first day.
"I'm a lucky boy and lucky these horses have come along at the same time. They probably help each other; they lift the standard all the way through and if you're Tailend Charlie you've got to keep up, so it brings them all along."
Kicking things off on the opening day is reigning Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D'Air, who could be joined by stablemates My Tent Or Yours, Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue in a race Henderson has had a love affair with ever since See You Then became his first festival winner in 1985.
A best-priced 4-7 with Betfair and Paddy Power for hurdling's greatest prize, the notoriously "stuffy" Buveur D'Air, who is three from three this term after victories in the Fighting Fifth, Christmas and Contenders Hurdle, could have a gallop before racing at Kempton on Saturday.
"I would really like to go to a racecourse and on a raceday, which gives them that bit more adrenalin. He worked on Saturday and he worked today and I hope he can go to Kempton on Saturday," said Henderson, who praised the seven-year-old's slick jumping, adding: "That's his greatest asset. He's so quick, isn't he?
"He's frightening because if he gets it wrong by two inches, one inch… it's absolute precision and you've got to be deadly accurate to do it. He's very good at it. I think he's improving and he's getting stronger."
The middle leg of Henderson's big three comes in the Champion Chase with Altior, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner in 2016 who followed up in last year's Racing Post Arkle.
An autumn wind operation delayed his comeback until this month's Betfair-backed Game Spirit at Newbury, which the athletic eight-year-old was untouchable in.
"Altior has been very good since Newbury," added the trainer, whose superstar is a top-price 8-11 to give the stable a fifth triumph in the two-mile highlight.
"He hasn't done anything serious since, but had two strong canters today and will work at the weekend. He's got three bits of work to do between now and Cheltenham and I will school him because he likes his jumping and it keeps his eye in.
"Newbury was as good as one could possibly dare to hope for. The timing of the race was fantastic and it was a pretty fair performance. I like the way he dropped his bridle on ground that was plenty soft enough and was very sensible the whole way. He raced sweetly and jumped beautifully. He's pure class and that gets you a long way."
Might Bite, Henderson outlined, has perhaps more to prove than his stablemates, but the 32Red King George VI Chase winner remains the one to beat in the Gold Cup according to bookmakers, with Betfair and Paddy Power going a standout 4-1.
He also has previous at the festival and won the RSA Chase 12 months ago, but that was an eventful race as he shot clear and looked in command, only to hang right and allow stablemate Whisper a whiff of victory.
Ridden by Nico de Boinville, Might Bite was able to rally and recorded a famous win and has looked more straightforward this season.
Henderson said: "He's in very good form and worked this morning and worked great. His work is vastly superior to anything he did last year and he's better at home - there's no doubt about that.
"Everybody is going to have it in their minds, what will happen should he jump the last in front. He possibly looks more professional and his work is certainly better.
"We haven't been three-and-a-quarter miles, but to jump the last as he did in the RSA and then come to a complete standstill and get going again up that hill, he must stay pretty well. The better the ground the better he will be."
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