Nicky Henderson has been speaking about his plans for his top hurdlers ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
The trainer confirmed that Grandouet, Binocular and Spirit Son will all run in the Champion Hurdle, while Oscar Whisky will try to dethrone Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The former has easily won his last two races, the latest being an cosy win in December in the Stan James.com International Hurdle.
He told sportinglife.com:”Grandouet has done nothing wrong this season. It would be reasonably safe to say he would have won first time at Wincanton before he fell at the second last and he proved that with his next two runs.
“We were concentrating in the first part of the season on easy tracks for him as there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that last year he was suited to speed tracks rather than Cheltenham.
“We started on the flatter tracks but it was great that he came out and proved he can do that on the undulations of Cheltenham. With that behind us now we are gearing up for the Champion Hurdle.
“His win in the International Hurdle was very smooth and his jumping was slick – he is having a bit of a break and has done really well as he has put on a lot of weight – he looks great. He will have one more run probably in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton prior to Cheltenham.”
Spirit Son has not raced yet this season but the six-year-old has always been regarded as a serious Cheltenham contender by Henderson:
“Spirit Son looked good throughout last year and both myself and Barry (Geraghty) felt last year’s Cheltenham Festival was a year too soon for him”.
“But he ran a great race in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and just did not quite get home but then at Aintree he was very impressive.
“He had a little hiccup earlier in the year which took us back a little bit and we had to stand still for a short time so consequently got behind but we are up to date now as he is about to have a racecourse gallop.
“He will only have one run before Cheltenham and we will decide nearer the time which way he goes. Physically he has progressed enormously and is twice the size and strength he was last year.”
Spirit Son’s owner Michael Buckley hinted that he would miss the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown later this month.
He told At The Races: “I’m not ruling him out but I suspect if the Irish Champion Hurdle was 10 days later he might well be in. As it is, I’d say it’s doubtful.
“I think he might run a week or 10 days after that, maybe in that race at Sandown the following weekend.
“I think Spirit Son is a very talented horse and you’ve got to be optimistic.
“It’s a shame he’s going to go to Cheltenham again with very little addition to his experience, but it is what it is.”
Former champion hurdler Binocular scraped home in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but Henderson feels he could still be very competitive in March:
“Binocular’s performance over Christmas at Kempton was good. He has won it before and won it again – it is funny, we were pleased with him but never quite satisfied”.
“He is in very good form, he will also have a run before the Champion and is still the horse with the proven form around Cheltenham. We have got to get a few things right and there is some fine tuning to be done but there is every reason for hope. If we can get him there at his very best then he is the one horse they have got to beat.”
Oscar Whisky was third in last year’s Champion Hurdle and his trainer now feels the time is right to step up and challenge Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle over three miles.
“Two and half miles suits Oscar Whisky well but his next run will be over two miles as he is going to Ffos Las for the Welsh Champion Hurdle,” Henderson said.
“It might not be a logical route but it is obviously because Dai Walters owns him and Ffos Las and wants him there so that is where we are going to go.
“He won it last year and I would like to win it again and then we will switch him from two miles to three miles for the World Hurdle and there is no great problem with that.
“I can’t see how he is going to win the Champion Hurdle and I wish there was a champion two and a half mile event as that would be made for him as he proved at Aintree last year.
“He has been great and is improving all the time. That last win at Cheltenham was very professional, clinical and impressive so at least we might try and give Big Buck’s a race – although we will be extremely unpopular if we beat him.
“It will probably be the same if Long Run beats Kauto Star in the Gold Cup but it is our job to try and beat them. But it is well worth Oscar Whisky taking on Big Buck’s as there is a lot of prize money on offer and second in the World Hurdle would be better than third or fourth in a Champion Hurdle.
“It is the logical route to take but there is a bit of guesswork and a lot of people say he won’t stay three miles. I would be surprised if he didn’t.”