Nicky Henderson has a rich history of success at the Cheltenham Festival. With 70 winners to his name at the prestigious four-day meeting, his record speaks for itself, and only Willie Mullins boasts more victories at Prestbury Park.
However, by his usual high standards, Henderson will have been somewhat disappointed to only post two winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, with Shishkin and Chantry House winning the Arkle Challenge Trophy and Golden Miller Novices’ Chase respectively. He was forced to watch on with envy as Mullins and Henry de Bromhead delivered the goods for the Irish with six winners apiece.
A new year brings a fresh opportunity for Henderson to rediscover his dominant touch at Cheltenham. The 2022 Festival is fast approaching, and there are a number of Henderson-trained horses set to deliver strong performances over the four days. Let’s take a look at three of them.
Shishkin – Queen Mother Champion Chase
It’s no surprise that Shishkin is Henderson’s best hope of glory this year again. The eight-year-old produced an effervescent display to ease to victory in the Arkle last year, winning by 12 lengths over second-place Eldorado Allen. This year, the Queen Mother Champion Chase represents a different kettle of fish, but with Shishkin listed as the odds-on favourite in the racing betting on Betdaq for the day two showpiece, Henderson will still be expecting him to get the win.
The eight-year-old is undoubtedly one of the best horses on the scene at the moment, having won his last 10 races on the spin. This is an opportunity to truly cement his status by winning one of racing’s most famous races.
The competition will come in the form of Energumene, trained by Mullins, who pushed Shishkin all the way in the recent Clarence House Chase at Ascot. It will be fascinating to see them both do battle once again, especially with such a big prize on the line.
Champ – Stayers’ Hurdle
Champ has gone under the radar slightly since winning the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. Wind surgery meant that he did not race again until February 2021, and in the four races since his return he has only won once.
However, there’s no denying that Champ has the potential to deal serious damage when he is on top form. Henderson is well aware of that, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on Champ in the Stayers’ Hurdle as a result. He’ll face some stiff opposition, but if he can find the form of 2020 then he’ll take some stopping.
Constitution Hill – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
At five years old, and with just two races over hurdles under his belt, Constitution Hill’s career is still in its developmental phase, but with two wins from two over the winter period, many are beginning to sit up and take notice.
They were mammoth victories too — by 14 lengths and 12 lengths respectively in two races at Sandown, and that’s why Constitution Hill is a strong contender for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“He settles, goes to sleep, jumps and then you press a button and he goes,” Henderson raved about the novice recently. “He’s exactly what every trainer wants, a horse who eats, sleeps, doesn’t cause chaos and then you press a button, and push-button horses are lovely”