From the horse's mouth: Nicky Henderson discusses his Cheltenham Festival contenders
Nicky Henderson achieved the "impossible" at last year's Festival when he trained seven winners over the four days to become the most successful trainer of all-time at the showpiece meeting.
He heads into this year's Festival with a heavyweight team spearheaded by the likes of Bobs Worth, Long Run, Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, My Tent Or Yours, Binocular and Oscar Whisky.
But ask Henderson about his chances of repeating last year's heroics and he dismisses it out of hand.
"It's completely and utterly impossible," said the Berkshire trainer.
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"Someone told me I must be joking, but you would settle for one.
"You don't dare hope for more – you just dread the dreaded blank – and anything that comes along is gratefully received.
"The best thing you can do is find one of the first day.
"I don't know why the other horses should go any faster, but it gives everybody confidence."
Sprinter Sacre, long odds-on favourite for the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase, should ensure jockey Barry Geraghty and Henderson go home with at least one winner.
Owned by Caroline Mould from Gloucestershire, he has won seven races in a row over fences, including the Arkle Chase at last year's Festival.
Henderson said: "He knows what he is and he genuinely enjoys it, I think.
"Best horse trained? I don't know, but he's hugely talented.
"He's a natural athlete and the nice thing is if you analyse horses and what they look like he's actually as good a looking horse, I think, as we'll ever see.
"It's all terribly easy for him, and if you enjoy what you're doing you probably do it quite well.
"I hear people say he hasn't beaten anything, but he can only beat what's put in front of him and he's kept doing that
"My job is making sure that continues.
"I like watching him at home, that's fun, but I've got to say I don't enjoy the races terribly.
"Barry said the other day he was halfway down the back straight thinking, 'You're in the stands worrying and I'm out here having an absolute ball!'"
Simonsig won the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival and, having won three races in row over fences this term, is firm favourite to follow up in the Arkle Chase.
Henderson said: "Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig are two of the best work horses I have ever seen.
"I'm not going to say they're the best horses I've ever had but you'll seldom see two horses work like they can.
"Simonsig is so quick and he wouldn't be out of place in the Champion Hurdle.
"They'll be a pacemaker, I'm sure, in the Arkle but I don't think he will get very far away from him."
Thoughts turned to Darlan as Henderson discussed the chances of My Tent Or Yours in the William Hill Surpreme Novices' Hurdle.
My Tent Or Yours clinched victory under AP McCoy at Newbury last time out only days after Darlan suffered a fatal fall.
"The sadness is that Darlan isn't there as well," said Henderson.
"You just know you're missing one and he should be there.
"The irony was that on the Monday you lose one and you think where in the world are you going to replace him and then on the Saturday out comes My Tent Or Yours and suddenly looks like he can step into Darlan's shoes.
"There's a long way to go yet, but he's done nothing wrong and AP thinks the world of him."
Worth, Run on track for Gold Cup:
Favourite Bobs Worth and 2011 winner Long Run give Nicky Henderson two leading chances to win the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Bobs Worth is unbeaten in four races at Cheltenham, including two at the Festival, but he hasn't raced since winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in December.
Henderson said: "He has really got a bit to prove in that he has only really had one run outside novice chasing and that was in a handicap, so he has got to do it against the big boys.
"It was a good performance in the Hennessy, as it was in the RSA last year.
"The Gold Cup is a step up and I would have liked to have run him more on the way.
"He had one little hiccup himself and the whole winter has been the same – the ground has been desperate.
"His one opportunity to run came when the ground was bottomless and I am glad we did not go for that.
"He is a horse who is a bit more fragile than some of them and he wouldn't want a hard race in heavy ground beforehand."
Henderson is likely to put cheekpieces on Long Run for the first time in a race after he worked in them under jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, son of owner Robert Waley-Cohen, the chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse.
He hopes the headgear, designed to make a horse focus on racing, will help Long Run become only the second horse after Kauto Star to regain the Gold Cup.
Henderson said Long Run hadn't since his hard-fought victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day because he wanted to give him time to recover.
"He was only six when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and then wasn't just at his very best last season," said Henderson.
"Some cheek-pieces might just sharpen him up. They are not the prettiest things in the world but if they make him go faster why not.
"For a change I stuck Binocular and Long Run in a horsebox and drove them twice around the village and when we can back they were actually only the other side of that hedge over there.
"Maybe I'm just being stupid, but you think you're doing something constructive and it worked very well.
"Long Run has regained the King George and maybe he can regain the Gold Cup."
Binocular's sights trained on Champion Hurdle:
A work morning on the gallops at Seven Barrows tells Nicky Henderson all he needs to know about 2010 winner Binocular in the build-up to the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
"He jumped hurdles the other day and he was electric, and that's his barometer," said Henderson, who has won the Champion Hurdle five times with See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987), Punjabi in 2009 and Binocular.
"You don't need to take his temperature or give him a blood test, you school him and that tells you straightaway.
"Age has crept up on him a little bit but it hasn't dented any speed or any enthusiasm."
Henderson hopes Binocular, who was third in Ireland on his only run this season, can rediscover his best form as he bids to become the second horse, after Comedy Of Errors in 1973 and 1975, to win back his title.
He missed the 2011 Champion Hurdle, for which he had been ante post favourite, because he was on medication and last year finished fourth behind Rock On Ruby.
Henderson said: "You've all seen him on days when he doesn't jump as well as he can, like at Sandown when he made a pig's ear of winning a three-horse race and never jumped a twig.
"At Wincanton last year he looked a million dollars but the Champion Hurdle didn't go according to plan.
"He was lame after it and didn't run again. He's had only one run this season but I seem to remember we did that with See You Then.
"He had a hard enough race in Ireland, he did plenty and it brought him on and awful lot.
"I think he's been a desperately unlucky horse.
"He was unlucky not to win the Triumph Hurdle because he ran in the Supreme, he was unlucky not to win a second Champion Hurdle through no fault of his own.
Henderson is also hoping to run Grandouet in the Champion Hurdle after he returned from injury to finish second to Zarkandar in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.
He hasn't run since but Henderson is confident the gelding will be fit enough to himself justice in the big race tomorrow week.
Henderson said: "He is clean-winded and does not need as much work.
"He ran very well in the International and does not need to find an awful lot on that form."
Whisky looking to rule the World:
One of the biggest dilemmas facing Nicky Henderson in the build-up to the Festival has been whether to run Oscar Whisky in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The high-class gelding's narrow defeat by Reve De Sivola in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham appears to have made the decision for him, as well as a season-ending injury to the sensational Big Buck's.
"I think he proved he stays in the Cleeve and I think we've got to accept it," said Henderson. "Obviously it has been a difference with the race being without Big Buck's, it's opened the race up completely and everybody's going to take their chance.
"Now we've found out he does stay I think you could ride him a little more positively.
"At the beginning of the season Dai (Walters, owner) and I thought he might miss Cheltenham altogether if there wasn't a suitable race for him, the main objective being to try and win the Aintree Hurdle.
"If Cheltenham was going to jeopardise that we wouldn't run, but now Big Buck's isn't there it has opened it up.
"He and Reve De Sivola are joint favourites and that says the Cleeve Hurdle has been the best trial so far and it was tight that day and we were experimenting a little bit and I think we've got to hope to think we can turn that around.
"He's best at two and a half, there's no doubt about that, and I'm still campaigning for a Ryanair Hurdle!"