Famous five storm Newbury's Betfair Hurdle - champion trainer Nicky Henderson's bid for sixth win - then there's Altior
On Saturday (February 10) he's sending a team of five horses into the race in his bid for a sixth victory.Nicky Henderson has trained five winners of Britain's most valuable hurdle race - Newbury Racecourse's Betfair Hurdle.
Henderson believes any one of the team could win - "They all could". But to add to the hype around the race, he is running a 'big prize' contest for his staff - all they have to do is to put the five in the order they cross the finish on Saturday. Not so easy - the prize certainly will not match the £155,000 pot of the race itself!
However much of the attention at the Betfair Super Saturday meeting will be on another Henderson trained horse Altior - an eight year-old gelding who is entered for the Exchange Chase - which he won last year.
He is owned by Mrs Patricia Pugh.Unbeaten in his last eleven races, unbeaten over obstacles and with three Grade 1 victories, he has not raced since April 2017.
He developed a breathing problem last November when being prepared for the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and has had wind surgery. Today (February 6) Henderson said he was in excellent shape: "I think he's going to go [at Newbury] - I'm not going to promise."
Henderson's main target for him is the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival: "In the interests of getting him to Cheltenham, I'd like to get a race into him - if he gets beaten, he gets beaten - he's got to get beaten sometime. He's just very fresh - I'd like another schooling day to take that freshness out of him."
He had run ten furlongs on the grass that morning with Nico de Boinville aboard - and late in the morning looked relaxed and in fine form.
But it's still a bit of a will-he-won't-he game. Even getting him up onto the gallops had been a bit uncertain as Seven Barrows had had a minus five frost, but the grass was good.
The famous five entries for the Betfair Hurdle looked a perfect picture in their rugs. They are all, says Henderson, specialist two milers: "There's no dead wood in these five."
Carrying top weight of the five is Jenkins is unbeaten on his two starts at Newbury and has won five of his nine races. The six year-old's running appears to have been been transformed by blinkers and last month he won handicap hurdles races at Kempton and Ascot.
Henderson: "The way he's running he'll be quite prominent."
The mare Verdana Blue - another six year-old - took the Coutts Handicap Hurdle at Ascot in November - coming home three lengths clear of Speredek despite being badly hampered at the first.
The other mare in the team is Kayf Grace. She's a lightly-raced eight year-old who has won four of her eight traces - including a two mile handicap hurdle at Kempton on December 27 which she won in fine form.
Charli Parcs is a lightly-raced five year-old owned by JP McManus who finished sixth in last season's Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He was a close second during the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury over Saturday's distance in the Gerry Feilden Hurdle with Noel Fehily aboard.
Since coming from two point-to-point outings in Ireland, he has only started five times - winning twice. In November he came second in Wincanton's Grade 2 Elite Hurdle- three lengths behind London Prize.Last but not least of the five is six year-old Lough Derg Spirit.
Henderson: "He's very talented - probably better on good ground. But he's very fit and well."
If the weather is uncertain, so, Henderson made clear, is the order of play for jockeys. Though somewhere in the mix will be James Bowen - the very talented conditional jockey who is only sixteen.
Henderson is delighted to have Bowen - who has collected headlines as the 'wunderkind jockey' - in his team. But he wishes that soon someone would teach him to drive: "He has a car, but he can't drive it yet." He lives at Seven Barrows and may well take the ten miles trip to Newbury in a horsebox.
Newbury Racecourse has had the take-offs and landings covered and on Monday covered the whole course. That covering will protect the course from a minus four frost. But they expect the cold to ease and from Thursday night onwards to be free of frost.
On Tuesday (February 6) Newbury's going was officially Soft, Good to Soft in places.