Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and more rate chances at Cheltenham Festival
With the 2013 Cheltenham Festival upon us, Sky Sports gets the latest from the big stables.
Last Updated: 12/03/13 6:49pm
Publicly, Nicky Henderson has poured cold water on the possibility of matching last year's heroics, when he racked up no less than seven Cheltenham Festival winners.
However, with a team of at least 35 heading from Lambourn to Prestbury Park, Henderson's hand is again strong - despite the sad passing of Champion Hurdle favourite Darlan.
"What happened last year is unrepeatable. Maybe Paul (Nicholls) or Willie Mullins will have seven, but it has happened once to us, so it won't happen again," said the Festival's all-time leading trainer.
"You would settle for one - anything that comes your way is gratefully received. The best thing is if you can find one winner on the opening day. It doesn't make the horses run faster but it gives everyone confidence."
Paul Nicholls no longer has the likes of Kauto Star and Denman with which to attack the Festival's showpiece - The Gold Cup - but a new crop of stars has been steadily emerging.
The likes of Gold Cup hope Silviniaco Conti and improving hurdler Dodging Bullets have done little wrong, and Nicholls said: "Dodging Bullets is one of the forgotten horses of the Cheltenham festival.
"I was a little bit ambitious running him in the Christmas Hurdle, but he ran third to Darlan, finishing in front of Countrywide Flame and that's top class form. He definitely compares very favourably to Al Ferof and Nolan, who were previous winners of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle for us.
"He'll be much better if he can get a really fast-run race and come from behind. I think he'll run a really big race."
The David Pipe yard are set to saddle up the RSA ante-post favourite in Dynaste - but Pipe himself also has high hopes for other charges such as smart hurdler Gervey Chambertin.
Pipe said: "Gevrey Chambertin is improving rapidly and is strengthening up. He's battled well in a couple of races and I was pleased he had an easier time at Wincanton last time where he won off 130 in what wasn't the greatest of races.
"He's up 15lb to 145 so will find life tougher but is obviously a very good and improving horse. He's in the two novices and in everything as far as the handicaps go. I think he'll be better when he goes over three miles but whether we'll do that at the festival we'll see."
The famous McCain family began the 2012 Cheltenham Festival with a bang - Cinders And Ashes bolting up the rail to claim the Supreme Novices Hurdle ahead of Darlan.
After a pair of mediocre outings thus far this season, the ground is likely to help Cinders and Ashes' planned tilt at the Champion Hurdle, and McCain is also bullish on the chances of several others.
He said: "We've got a nice team going down. I'll only probably have one in each of the handicaps so we may be a little bit short there. Novice hurdlers, I've barely got one as the likes of Up And Go will skip the Festival.
"The young chasers, Our Mick, Super Duty and The Real Milan are grand horses and I'd like to think they can compete. And then obviously you need a couple of strong fancies, and we've got those as well. It's grand. I'm happy."
It's another family affair for the Twiston-Davies clan, whose major hope is the eye-catching The New One, outmuscled by At Fishers Cross up the Cheltenham hill last time out.
Twiston-Davies said: "The New One has obviously got a huge burst of speed and in hindsight we probably did use it too soon last time. I'd hope the ground won't be anywhere near as heavy at the Festival though.
"Tactics wise, he'll probably sit there and take it up at the last. There's no point in waiting and waiting and making a mistake at the final flight. He's the shortest price of all mine at the Festival and the bookmakers are cleverer than most of us so he probably is my best chance."
Last year was a mixed year for Jonjo O'Neill, who produced valiant Gold Cup winner Synchronised - only to see the horse pass away in his attempt to add the Grand National.
This year, O'Neill has hinted that the horse that was an agonising second in the National, Sunnyhillboy, may go for the Gold Cup in preparation for the marathon event at Aintree.
The Irishman said: "I'm not sure where we'll go, but the plan is really Aintree. He could well run at Cheltenham and there would be fewer runners in the Gold Cup so it might be an option."
Martin Keighley has a big hope in the imposing figure of Champion Court, who goes for glory in the Ryanair Chase.
"If Champion Court came back to last season's Cheltenham form, he'd have a big chance," said Keighley.
"He just didn't stay in the King George so we've dropped him in trip. He's at his best when he can get rolling out in front, that's what he likes. His main rivals have other options elsewhere so it might cut up a bit yet."
Up-and-coming trainer Charlie Longsdon is expected to further enhance his reputation at the Festival with promising horses such as Pendra, which he feels will be best served by taking his chance in the Coral Cup.
Longsdon said of his stable star: "I hope he'll be spot on for the Festival. All he does is stay - everything he has done over two miles has been a bonus, so two-five should suit.
"The ground has been slowing everything down this winter which has been a bonus. AP (McCoy) has been and ridden him and he likes him. I think he's my best chance of the week."
Tom George is enthusiastic over the chances of Parsnip Pete, Majala and his star two-miler Rody, who has already recorded victories at Wincanton and Warwick this season.
He said of promising chaser Rody: "His form is rock solid and he seems to be progressing well. He gets into the Grand Annual on 10st 4lbs which will be a good weight."
and our expert... Michael Shinners
Sky Bet Racing PR manager Michael Shinners has attended all of the Cheltenham Festival preview days.
He gives us his pick of the horses from each stable he visited - including those of Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Donald McCain.
He also looks ahead to the Champion Hurdle; the Champion Chase, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup - and picks out his Shinners Banker of the Festival.