Shishkin (Sporting Life Arkle)
“It’s amazing how this race has gone from about three or four weeks ago, when Shishkin was odds-on and everyone saying it was going to be boring. All of a sudden Willie [Mullins] has come along with Energumene and that’s arrived on the scene and I think Allmankind was impressive again at Warwick. It was only three weeks ago it was boring, and now there’s a real fight on and people are seeing it as one of the big headline clashes of the week.
“I think Shishkin’s performance in the Supreme last year was pretty good because he did get literally taken into the car park at the second-last, so to get back in and win was a solid performance. He probably hasn’t had a lot of opposition over fences, but he’s been very clinical and accurate and he’s done it well every time. He comes in having got ten ticks on all three occasions, even if he didn’t have to beat anything very sensational, and he’s had a good run in. He’s got a couple of bits of work I’d like to do with him beforehand, this weekend and next, and I’d put him on a shortlist to go to Kempton [for a racecourse gallop] if we do that. He’ll have another school, but everything’s fairly on course at the moment.”
Epatante (Champion Hurdle)
“Kempton was disappointing because she was very, very good in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. Christmas just didn’t go her way, she wasn’t herself, but fair play to the winner Silver Streak, who was very good and set a proper test, and we were at no stage really in a position to have a crack at him. We have a few things ironed out I hope because obviously she is better than that but Silver Streak was very good on the day and we weren’t - but I think we’re back in the right place now.
“Newcastle was a bit of a mess because Silver Streak was taken out with another early on and that emptied the race a fair bit, but take nothing away from her, she was very impressive. She picked up Sceau Royal who was leading to the last and she went past him with so much class. She looked wonderful there, and if we’ve got her back there, she’s got as good a chance as any.”
Buveur d'Air (Champion Hurdle)
“Haydock was particularly testing and we were in a period where only two going descriptions were available – abandoned or heavy – so you either took it and got on with it or stayed at home. It did just find him out at Haydock, I thought we were going to get there going to the last but he probably just emptied a bit and he was entitled to in that ground but it did him the world of good and he’s in good shape. I honestly think Buveur D’Air has been forgotten and he’s out with the washing at the moment, while Epatante is sharing favouritism with Honeysuckle and Goshen and it’s all going to be very competitive.”
Dame de Comapgnie (Mares' Hurdle)
“We were a bit short of opportunities with Dame De Compagnie so we had to throw her into a Grade 1 [over fences], which was a bit of a baptism really. I think she’s very likely to come back for this, and she’s in very good form. The fall did her no harm, and I don’t see why she shouldn’t come back over hurdles. She showed in the Coral Cup that two and a half miles is her trip and I think it’s a good call. We can always go back over fences, and she’s not ready for the Mares’ Chase as yet. JP has the favourite for that [Elimay], so we’re just trying to split the troops.
Floressa (Mares' Hurdle)
"I’m pretty keen to run her and she’s always struck me as if an extra half a mile would help her. She’s been running very well in graded races at two miles, but we’ve always felt that two and a half would suit her."
Verdana Blue (Mares' Hurdle)
“I think Verdana Blue has become more versatile than she used to be. She was very speedy and wanted fast ground, but I think funnily enough her Flat season last year told us that she’s staying better and coping with softer ground better – as she was a very close third in the Ebor on soft ground. So she might well be better going up to two and a half.”
Dickie Diver (National Hunt Chase and Brown Advisory Novices'' Chase)
“He’s never been easy, but he had one run over fences at Newbury and ran very well and jumped well. He really needs to back it up again and is in a few, but he might well get a run again before the Festival – and will probably need to.”
Altior (Champion Chase)
“Altior went off with Mister Fisher and had a good gallop, jumping fences. They were both in good form and it all went very well. I am very happy with where Altior is. He will have one more bit of work here and he is fit and seems very well. Chacun Pour Soi and plenty of others will be there but he is still there and will be sharper this time. There will be a battle and I am looking forward to it.
“One has to remember he is 11 now and is on 11 year old legs. He has done very little wrong. One or two things have conspired against him and I have to go back to the race at Ascot last over 2m5f on heavy ground against Cyrname. But I am not struggling with Altior at the moment – he is good. It was a miracle when Sprinter Sacre came back and I don’t think you can hope for two miracles! If Altior won it would be very special. He has been a fantastic horse to have had.
“I think [headgear] is something to be considered. It is something we have discussed. We have eliminated the Ryanair Chase as an option so we might look at something to try and sharpen him up over two miles.”
Chantry House (Marsh Novices' Chase)
“I was very pleased with Chantry House at Wetherby the other day. He was very impressive first time out at Ascot, and if you go back last year he was a very good third in the Supreme, and we always felt he needed further. Ascot isn’t a place I would often choose for first time out novice chasers, but he was very good and won well. We then went to Cheltenham and he was very disappointing and completely forgot his jumping. He had a bit of surgery on his back and he did really well because Wetherby was only eight weeks after we’d corrected his back, so that was a pretty quick turnaround. I thought he jumped beautifully and travelled very well on horrible ground. He stays, touch wood he jumps, and the only problem is Envoi Allen!
Fusil Raffles (Marsh Novices' Chase)
"It was only one start in very heavy ground at Cheltenham [that caught him out] and I’m absolutely certain he wants two and a half. You do have problems in doing that, as you bump into one of the Irish bankers of the week in Envoi Allen. He’s got to be taken on and I think with Chantry House and Fusil we’ve got two shots at him.”
Mister Fisher (Ryanair Chase)
"I’d like to think he’s got a very good shout. He went away with Altior earlier this week and his jumping has been very good. He won the Peterborough Chase, which was moved from Huntingdon to Cheltenham, and put up a first-class performance. He would very much like good ground. If he gets some decent ground, I think he’ll be very competitive.”
Heross du Seuil (Triumph Hurdle)
“He runs at Warwick tomorrow [Friday 26th February] and let’s see how things go. I love the horse and I thought he did well to win at Kempton first time out. He’s got to get more experience and he’s got to be impressive tomorrow, but you never know. I’ve opted for the easier option at Warwick over the Adonis, so let’s wait and see.”
Bothwell Bridge (Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle)
“He could well run at Hereford on Sunday over three miles. We think that’s what he wants and he’d have to do something spectacular there but he’s very capable of it. I was very impressed with him the first time he ran, so he’ll be at Cheltenham one day for sure.”
Champ (Cheltenham Gold Cup)
“He is an extraordinary horse – if you saw him at home a week before he was working on our grass gallops with On The Blind Side. On The Blind Side has had a good season but is basically a three-mile hurdler who is not good enough to be entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle. It took Champ all day to get to him and my assistant Charlie Morlock said to me he didn’t look like a horse who would go over two miles. But Champ at home and Champ on a racecourse are completely different – you wouldn’t think they are the same horse. He does nothing at home but when he sets foot on a racecourse he sparks up.
“I was hoping we’d see what he saw [in the Game Spirit Chase], and my head was on the chopping block if this ridiculous idea didn’t work, but it worked because he could do it. His jumping at the fences was exceptional and we’ve all come away very happy.
“It was an extraordinary performance [in the RSA Chase last season], almost reminiscent of dear old Might Bite. He was out of it and not going to feature, then from the second last to the last he was dropping back and it looked like he was going to finish a moderate third jumping the last. I was focusing on the leaders and all of a sudden Champ came back into sight and swept pass them. That proves one thing which is important – his stamina. That was his first and only try over three miles. The second thing which was interesting was that he faltered going to the second-last.
“When he came back into training we loose-schooled him at Henrietta Knight’s and when he came back here we could definitely hear a noise which we had never heard before, which makes me wonder what happened to him last year at round about the second-last. That is the point in the race where pressure is applied and if your breathing apparatus isn’t working as well as it should be - this is only a Henderson observation - that could be what made him lose ground before he got his second wind and took off. So that is why we had to do his wind.”
WOW!— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 11, 2020
Champ pulls it out of the fire to take the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase at @CheltenhamRaces in dramatic fashion
📱 https://t.co/fJXuj4d6h6#CheltenhamFestival #ITVRacing pic.twitter.com/PfnsKnyLTq
Santini (Cheltenham Gold Cup)
“He’s had a difficult season, because he started off by going to Aintree where he ended up running in a Flat race, but actually he ran really well. We had no intention of running him in the King George as Kempton isn’t the track for him, but it just occurred to me that there was too much of a gap between the Aintree race and the Cotswold Chase, and he’s not a horse who sits still. Unsurprisingly he found the track sharper than ideal, but it was still a good exercise for him.
“He took on the Cotswold Chase at Sandown which was great, but the ground that day was testing. I can’t say I was thrilled but it was a good run and Aidan [Coleman] was able to look after him and he finished a good third without getting a desperately hard race. Hopefully that puts him where we want him and he seems in good shape. He was great in the Gold Cup last year and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t do just as well.”