Nicky Henderson has a proud record at Cheltenham Festival and has been competitive more often than not as one of the leading trainers of the week. By Henderson’s standards, the 2021 festival was a down year for the Englishman as he notched only two victories over the course of the week. One was expected as Shishkin delivered a dominant performance in the Arkle Chase, while the other was a nice surprise as Chantry House capitalized on a fall by Envoi Allen to win the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
The two horses will play a vital role in the upcoming festival for Henderson as he seeks to counter Irish dominance of the event. Shishkin is his best hope for the week in the Champion Chase, and is backed as the overwhelming favorite in the Cheltenham Festival odds at -150 to win the race.
If Henderson is to compete to be the top trainer of the week he will need Shishkin and his stable-mates on form as the 71-year-old is currently backed in the top trainer odds for Cheltenham at +1600 to end the week with the most victories. Although the odds are against the Englishman winning the award, he does have a number of quality charges competing over the four days of the competition that could put him in line for an unlikely triumph.
The fortunes of Constitution Hill and Jonbon in the opening race of the week will indicate how the week will play out for Henderson and the rest of the trainers in the field. Both are outstanding horses for Henderson, but will face tough competition from Dysart Dynamo and Sir Gerhard out of Willie Mullins’ yard. Constitution Hill is receiving a lot of praise following his dominant win at the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown Park and could well be the next outstanding horse out of Henderson’s yard like Shishkin and Altior. Should he lose to Sir Gerhard, his trainer will face a battle to compete for the rest of the week against the Irish trainers.
Epatante had her Champion Hurdle crown whisked away by Honeysuckle last season. A win at the Christmas Hurdle proves that she is capable of fighting back, but it will take a strong performance to overcome Henry de Bromhead’s horse along with Mullins’ rising star Appreciate It.
Elsewhere, 2021 Gold Cup runner Champ proved that he was not up for the task of the elite race after he was pulled up in the contest. He has returned to hurdles and produced a fine performance in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot to defeat Thyme Hill and Paisley Park. Champ was beaten at the Cleeve Hurdle, but he could make a strong run in the Stayers’ Hurdle to win the event for Henderson for the first time since the 2000 Cheltenham Festival.
Shishkin was outstanding in his last outing to topple Energumene in the Clarence House Chase. The French thoroughbred is a machine and it would be one of the upsets of the week if he were unable to close out a victory in the Champion Chase. It will be a fascinating duel, but Henderson’s charge should have it in the bag over Mullins and Energumene.
Henderson does not have an outstanding horse in the Gold Cup, but Chantry House does have a strong record at Cheltenham. He triumphed at the festival last season in the Marsh Novices’ Chase after Envoi Allen’s fall, while he built on his performance with a victory in the Cotswold Chase in January. The French thoroughbred is an outsider for the crown at +1600, but he could be worth a shout given the unpredictability of the contest.
Henderson has not had a lot of success of late at Cheltenham, but he could be a dark horse for the top trainer award in 2022 if all goes to plan.