Sprinter simply unbeatable at his best
No one has trained more Cheltenham Festival winners than Nicky Henderson, who has amassed a total of 55 in a bit more than 30 years. We recount some of his most famous festival performers.
See You Then
Festival wins: Champion Hurdle (1985, 86 & 87)
Surprisingly, Henderson has only been champion trainer three times. His most recent title came in 2012-13, largely thanks to an amazing sweep at the Cheltenham Festival – of which more shortly. The first two came in 1985-86 and 1986-87, when he was carried there by Champion Hurdle hero See You Then.
See You Then is in a club of five to have won three Champion Hurdles, a membership he shares with only Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, and Istabraq.
Nearly 20 years before Best Mate, the fragile See You Then ran only once or twice a season before Cheltenham. "He was known as See You When rather than See You Then!" recalled Henderson when the horse died in late-2011 at the age of 31.
Festival wins: Arkle (1991), Champion Chase (1992)
Known as one of the greatest jumpers of a fence ever seen at Cheltenham, Remittance Man was an implacable force in his first two seasons as a chaser, winning the Arkle in 1991 and then the Champion Chase in 1992.
He went on to dominate Aintree's stiff fences in the Melling Chase shortly after his Champion win, but never really proved the same again after injury struck early the following season. He made it back to Cheltenham in 1994, going off favourite for the Champion Chase, but fell three out under Mick Fitzgerald, then just coming through the ranks but soon to forge a lasting relationship as Henderson’s stable jockey.
Festival wins: Stayers' Hurdle (2000)
One of two Stayers' Hurdle winners for Henderson, Bacchanal beat Limestone Lad in 2000 for his greatest festival success with Fitzgerald aboard.
He was then switched to fences, winning the Feltham and the Reynoldstown before being denied the chance to compete in the RSA by the foot-and-mouth crisis that led to the cancellation of Cheltenham in 2001.
He went on to finish third in the King George twice before dying in a fall in the 2003 Pillar Chase.
Festival wins: Albert Bartlett (2011), RSA Chase (2012), Gold Cup (2013)
Winning at three consecutive festivals is difficult enough when it is the same race, but Bobs Worth did it in three separate contests.
Taking the textbook trajectory of a champion staying chaser, Bobs Worth won the Albert Bartlett in 2011, the RSA Chase in 2012 and finally the Gold Cup in 2013, when he stormed up the hill under Barry Geraghty to beat Sir Des Champs and stablemate Long Run.
Bobs Worth had an affinity with Cheltenham that almost matched that of his trainer, but like Remittance Man he struggled to hold his form after his most famous success. He won only one more Grade 1, the following winter's Lexus Chase, but did sign off with a fine third in last year’s World Hurdle behind Thistlecrack.
Festival wins: Arkle (2012), Champion Chase (2013, 2016)
With wins in the Arkle and two in the Champion Chase, Sprinter Sacre is responsible for a little more than five per cent of Henderson's 55 festival wins, but he will be remembered as a much bigger part of his trainer's career.
Simply unbeatable at his best, only Kauto Star has recorded a higher official rating than Sprinter Sacre since the days of Arkle.
His record at Cheltenham, where he was paraded on the day he was retired in November of last year, stood at seven runs, five wins, a third in the 2011 Supreme and a non-completion in the 2015 Champion Chase. The last-mentioned of those only made his second Champion Chase success 12 months later all the sweeter and one of the most stirring moments in recent festival history.