Chantry House’s proven top-class form over short of three miles is expected to stand him in good stead when he lines up for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.
Third to superstar stablemate Shishkin in the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Nicky Henderson’s charge won the two-and-half-mile Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March before stepping to three miles and a furlong to win another Grade One, this time at Aintree.
His reappearance over three miles at Sandown last month was in a two-runner affair, and while on the face of it it proved uncompetitive Henderson was happy – and even happier after a piece of work last week under Nico de Boinville.
He said: “It (Sandown reappearance) was a two-horse race and he went round on his own, which technically proved nothing to anybody except you couldn’t find a fault in him. (But) he went round and apparently in a very respectable time, too, considering he was doing it all on his own.
“He has had one spin around a racecourse and that really did wake him up last week. He didn’t need a wake up, but you are going to have to be very sharp here. Three miles around Kempton is different. My plus for him is that until Aintree last year he was doing all his racing and winning over two and a half, including around Kempton.
“He’s not a slow three-mile horse, we upped to him three miles at Aintree and he got it well. He had the solo at Sandown and was very good, but we haven’t taught him to be a three-miler. The good thing is he’s got some sort of natural pace and that helps around Kempton because they’ll go quick, I think we know that, although if anyone goes quicker than Frodon then I think they are going quicker than the race needs to be run at.
“That sort of pace won’t frighten him. He’s just out of novice (company), of course, but he is sharp. He was very good the other day, and Nico was really happy with him. He’s a very laid-back horse and that is in his favour, he’s not going to be pulling and tugging and careering all over the place just because he is a two-and-a-half-mile horse.”
Boxing Day afternoon promises to be another big one for the Seven Barrows yard, with Epatante attempting to regain her Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle crown.
The 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine made her comeback in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, doing almost everything right but having to share the spoils with Not So Sleepy in a thrilling finish.
Henderson is upbeat about where he has his mare – but equally aware of a major stumbling block that awaits her chase for further two-mile honours after the weekend.
He said: “I would be very happy where we are, I’m very happy with her. It looks like we’ll have plenty of pace, we don’t mind that. Aidan (Coleman) is banned so Nico will be riding her.
“I’m expecting and hoping for the best. We’ve always said her season was about Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle – after that it’s a totally different ball game, because we’re almost certainly going to walk straight into Honeysuckle and she is something different.
“We could have another race in between, we could use the Kingwell or there’s the Contenders Hurdle that we’ve used at Sandown. But talking to JP (McManus, owner) at the beginning of the season the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle were our two aims for the year. If we could get those in the bag – we’ve only got half in the bag so far, but even so we were happy with that.
“If we could get this we can say we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve this year. We’re still ambitious, we’re not going to lie down. You could say could you try her over two and a half and see if she’d stay that in the Mares’ Hurdle? It’s something that’s only crossed my mind recently. She looks a two-miler, but is she going to beat Honeysuckle? The answer is in all probability no, whatever she does on Sunday.”
He added: “It’s sad to see no Silver Streak, I have to say. He beat us in it last year and my commiserations to all of them because we had a bad day on Friday and they had a worse day. I’m really sorry, he’s been a great servant. He got carried out in the Fighting Fifth last year and then he beat us in the Christmas Hurdle.
“Things weren’t going right for her, but I think we’re in a good place now. I’m not going to come armed with excuses, unless something comes to bite us which it can do.”