WATERFALL rider Jerry McGrath is a key cog in the Nicky Henderson operation who have a galaxy of stars including Epatante, Altior, Shishkin, Chantry House and Santini who will be going for gold next week at Cheltenham.
McGrath memorably rode Beware the Bear to victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day of last year’s meeting.
The Henderson team have five runners in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day as the young Cork man gives the run down on the entire Henderson team.
“It’s been a funny few days with all the talk around this coronavirus but we are all systems go here at seven barrows,” McGrath said.
“We’ve a couple of lively chances in the opening race of the meeting with the favourite Shishkin.
“Obviously, the owner Joe Donnelly is from Cork and he has two decent chances with our horse and Asterion Forlonge, although the Mullins runner is probably more of a stayer to my eyes.
“Shishkin is a worthy favourite and we think the world of him. All his homework has been top class so we’re hoping for a great start to the meeting.
“Now while he’ll be very hard to beat, it’s a very competitive race and Chantry House is another runner from our yard for the JP McManus team.
“Now he’s a cracking novice hurdler as well and might be the each/way value here at 8/1.
“The Ballymore Novice Hurdle is all about the favourite Envoi Allen who will have the Irish banker tag and has done nothing wrong all season. But there are a couple of good English horses in here including Sporting John.
“Thyme Hill will run in the Albert Bartlett and is the favourite here. I ride a horse called The Cashel Man who is a second season novice and might be under the radar at fancy prices.
“The step up to three miles will help us and hopefully a little bit of better ground will also help. I think he’ll run a very big race and is certainly being overlooked because he’s a 33/1 shot.”
The Champion Hurdle is the highlight on the opening day and is a real puzzle for punters. Henderson has the favourite Epatante, Pentland Hills, Verdana Blue, Fusil Raffles, and Call Me Lord.
“I’ll be riding Verdana Blue who is an outsider, but it’s nice to have a ride in the race and he’ll be ridden to come from the back of the field.
“Pentland Hills has been working very well and won the Triumph last year. Epatante won well at Kempton and she will be receiving the mares allowance.
“She ran poorly at last year’s festival so people are holding that against her. Epatante will also handle slower ground so she must be a big player.
“Our best novice chaser is Champ who runs in the RSA Chase. Now he certainly doesn’t make it easy for himself and took a crashing fall the last day at Cheltenham.
“But Champ is very talented and must have a very good chance, Minella Indo won at the festival last year, and Allaho has also impressed for the Mullins team.
“But Champ is the horse to beat. Mister Fisher is entered in the Arkle and the Marsh and will probably line up in the latter.
“Precious Cargo is another one of our novices, but it’s hard to see him troubling the Irish horses in the graded races anyway.“
There is no doubt that the Champion Chase is the highlight of the week for most racing fans.
It is also the feature race on the second day of the meeting with the Henderson- trained Altior chasing a three-in-a-row in this prestigious championship contest.
Defi Du Seuil has done nothing wrong and leads the opposition while the Willie Mullins-trained Chaqun Pour Soi has been another hype horse since the start of the year without impressing on the track.
McGrath has never hidden his admiration for Altior and gives an upbeat and glowing report about Nicky Henderson’s pride and joy.
“Altior is a great bet and is the best horse in the race. We have had problems with him during the year, but he’s such a great horse.
“Defi is also very good but I suspect Chaqun Pour Soi may lack a bit of experience. But its Altior all the way from everyone here at Henderson’s.
“Paisley Park is the banker of the week over here in the Stayers Hurdle so himself and Altior would be my double for the week.”
Another high profile runner from the Henderson team is Santini who is joint favourite for the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo.
“People are giving out about the form of Santini’s races, but he was very good on trials day in January.
“As you’d expect in a Gold Cup there are plenty with chances including the defending champion Al Boum Photo.
“Clan Des Obeaux is another one of the English horses with a chance. He’s looked good this year, but Santini will do for me.
“Beware the Bear gave me an amazing day at last years festival but he will bypass Cheltenham in favour of the Aintree Grand National.
“We’ll have to see the final fields before I know what I will be riding in the handicaps.
“The mares novice hurdle has a horse of ours called Floresa who has an each way chance.”