With the second most Cheltenham Festival wins in history (72), British trainer Nicky Henderson has achieved almost everything there is to in the sport of National Hunt racing. The 72-year-old will have the opportunity to further add to his Hall of Fame career at Prestbury Park this month, with a number of his entries at Cheltenham boasting strong claims.
With that in mind, read on as we dissect three of Henderson’s best chances at the Festival in 2023.
Constitution Hill – Champion Hurdle
Most are of the opinion that this race is a forgone conclusion, with Constitution Hill expected to obliterate the field. It’s easy to see why the six-year-old is garnering such hype, as he has won his last five races by an average margin of fifteen-and-a-half lengths – four of those wins coming at the Grade 1 level.
Due to his dominance, Constitution Hill is drawing comparisons to some of the sport’s all-time great thoroughbreds – most notably Istabraq. Many experts believe that he is the best hurdler since the Sadler’s Wells product – and while that is a tough reputation for Henderson’s horse to live up to – Constitution Hill has already proven himself to be a generational talent in his young career.
For those interested in placing a bet on Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle – to no-one’s surprise – the gelding is the odd on Cheltenham Festival favourite at 1/3.
Shishkin – Ryanair Chase
Another short-priced favourite from the Henderson stable, nine-year-old Shishkin will line up in the Ryanair Chase on the penultimate day of the Festival. The gelding has had mixed results at Prestbury Park in year’s past, with his win in the Novices’ Chase in 2021 part of a fantastic run of form that saw him reign supreme in ten consecutive races.
Contrast that with his performance in the Champion Chase last year, in which he pulled up after struggling to jump with fluency from the outset of the contest. He recovered from in February however, winning the Ascot Chase emphatically by 16 lengths from respected opposition in Pic D’Orhy and Fakir D’oudairies.
Additionally, Shishkin’s tilt at the Ryanair Chase was made a little easier last month after two-time defending champion Allaho was scratched due to an abdominal bleed. With that being said, the 4/5 shot won’t be without his fair share of competition, with multiple-time Grade 1 triumphant Blue Lord appearing to be his biggest threat.
Jonbon – Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
With nine victories in ten appearances throughout his career to date, his only loss of which coming at the hands of his exceptional stablemate Constitution Hill, Jonbon is one of Henderson’s most promising prospects at Cheltenham.
At the time of writing, Jonbon sits as the second favourite at 13/8 behind the Willie Mullins-trained El Fabiolo to reign supreme in the Novices’ Chase. While there’s no doubting that El Fabiolo is an immensely talented horse, when looking at the trends of past winners, Jonbon has all the markers to cause what would be a minor upset.
With 11 of the 12 previous winners aged either six or seven, 11 of the 12 past winners having had at least three runs for the season, and a further 11 of the 12 previous champions having had at least one course run – it could very well be Jonbon’s day in the Arkle.
Additionally, if Henderson can secure upset victories over the four days like he intends to in the Arkle, no matter how minor – it will go a long way toward his tilt for a ninth Leading Trainer Award.
Henderson currently sits at 9/1 in the Cheltenham top trainer latest odds – which is good for third favourite.
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