Ireland has had a pretty terrific
time of it at Cheltenham in recent years but Nicky Henderson looks to have a
stronger team than anyone going into 2019.
The champion trainer, of course,
has Altior Buveur D’air and Might Bite, but his team of youngsters takes the
breath away. Evoking an era when most of our best young horses left the
country, many of those potential champions came from Ireland, be it after
winning a point or a bumper.
Henderson is ludicrously dominant
in the list below but that is to be expected. He looks well worth a bet to be
Cheltenham Champion trainer.
This horse, has he any flaws?
Since going over flights, the son of High Chaparral has never suffered defeat.
Five hurdle wins were increasingly impressive but he was clearly made for
Even so, to win 11 chase runs in
a row is pretty incredible and what marks him out as one of the true greats is
that he has a finishing kick that is basically impossible for others around
today to match.
He has yet to run in Ireland and,
given Nicky Henderson’s love for Punchestown, it would be not out of the bounds
of possibility that he rocks up at the Festival in April. Might he yet step up
in trip? At this stage, nothing looks remotely capable of beating him in either
Angels Breath was bought out of
the Goffs Land Rover Bumper sale for €85,000 and looked very good value at that
when absolutely bolting up on his debut in a point for Pat Doyle at Moira in
April of this year, destroying the Colin Bowe-trained Tanrudy by 12 lengths.
Switched to Nicky Henderson, he
was thrown straight into a Grade 2 on his Rules debut, and he hammered the very
well-regarded Danny Kirwan by four and a half lengths, despite running freely.
A brother to
bumper/two-and-a-half-mile hurdle winner Outofthisworld, trained by Harry Fry,
Angels Breath has the world at his feet at this stage. He deserves to be a hot
favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle, and at this moment it is not easy
seeing anything in Ireland beating him.
The death of the stallion Fame
And Glory is ever more regrettable as he posthumously sires one nice winner
after another. Even in the short life that he had at stud, he will likely sire
a few very good hurdlers and chasers, and Ask For Glory is ultra-exciting.
Bred by Donal Coffey, Paul
Nicholls procured the horse after he won a Barlemy point-to-point for Coffey in
May, a ten-length victory in a four-year-olds' maiden. He was even more
impressive in his Chepstow bumper over Christmas, admittedly being able to
dictate up front under Sam Twiston-Davies, but showing a remarkable cruising speed.
With Malone Road likely to miss
Cheltenham and Envoi Allen probably not going there, Ask For Glory has to rate
a potential winner of the Champion Bumper if connections look that way.
The story goes that when Tony
McCoy would call to JP McManus' house, he made himself very much at home, and
the relationship between the pair was almost like as though they were family
Champ, named after the legendary
County Antrim native, was never likely to be too bad, but it might just be that
he is a top-class individual. He suffered two defeats after a smooth win on
debut but is unbeaten in his last four, taking the step to handicaps into Grade
1 company in his stride at Newbury over Christmas.
This horse could be next to
unbeatable in the Albert Bartlett if he stays three miles. That is no guarantee
but the dam was a half-sister to Best Mate. He is extremely talented, travels
like a class act and has a great attitude.
Given that he was trained by Mags
Mullins, who knows how to do her stuff, it was surprising that he was sent off
14/1 on debut at Fairyhouse in December 2017, especially given that he scored
by 14 lengths. A half-brother to decent winning jumper Timeforwest, Downtown
Getaway looks almost sure to be the best horse out of the mare Shang A Lang.
After his bumper win, he changed
hands for £350,000 and was sent off a short price to make a winning hurdles
debut before Christmas for Nicky Henderson at Newbury. He travelled well out
wide under Nico de Boinville and all was going well for odds-on backers until
he made a bad mistake three out.
He still came back on the bridle
but was worn down in the closing stages by the hardy and classy Tidal Flow. He
looks a very smart prospect once he steps up in trip.
The Trull Mares' Novice Hurdle at
Cheltenham, a new race at Prestbury Park, has been kind to the Irish, and the
likes of Barrington Court, Sancta Simona and Relegate are certainly potentially
major players in this year's renewal – but two of those are owned by JP
McManus, who already has antepost favourite Epatante for the race.
Two from three in her native
France, the bay mare barely broke a sweat when beating her Kempton rivals in
November. That form is not too special – the runner-up was beaten in a handicap
next time off 113 – but Nicky Henderson has a really bright prospect on his
There was a lot of flattering
talk about Santini after the Milan-bred won on his chase debut at Newbury in
December, though I was a bit wary of the hype, as I felt he was workmanlike and
jumped a bit big at times. He had a lot more to do in a Kempton Grade 1 in
December and, while he probably ran another fine race, he was no match for La
Bague Au Roi.
While the mare is now an
eight-year-old, she is after winning 13 of her 18 races, and she has quickly
developed into a top-notch and very likeable chaser. What she would do for a
mares' chase at Cheltenham! She could target a mares' race in Ireland at some
stage but the National Hunt Chase also looks a very possible target in March.
Colin Tizzard’s rise from farmer
to Gold Cup winner is something from another era. He happened upon some
top-notch horses at the same time but even so his training ability needs
Native River will be aimed at one
race specifically this season. He was a bit disappointing in the King George,
given his comeback run at Haydock, but there were extenuating circumstances. As
game as they come, he will be surely bang there come March, and perhaps we
could see him at Punchestown later this year. He still has many stories
Quel Destin has certainly not
been spared by Paul Nicholls, already running five times as a juvenile hurdler,
winning his last four. He has now had nine hurdles starts, even if just turned
four. That he was only a neck winner of his last pair suggests he is probably
vulnerable to an Irish horse in the Triumph Hurdle, but he seems to be saving a
bit for himself, and he is not to be underestimated, certainly with the hill so
much in his favour at Cheltenham.
Rathhill was trained in Ireland
by Colin McKeever and it was to his local Loughbrickland that he went for his
four-year-olds' maiden, only to be beaten by one coming all the way from the
Denis Murphy yard.
JP McManus saw enough to swoop
for the son of Getaway and it could be money well=spent as he beat a strong
field in a pretty smooth manner at Newbury under Barry Geraghty in December,
impressing in how he travelled giving he is surely crying out for a good deal
farther than two miles. Even if that is the case, he goes to the Tolworth
Hurdle as a hot favourite antepost and down the line he could well be a Gold
Cup horse. He is entered in the Supreme and Ballymore.