Henderson sweet on Coffey’s Betfair bid

Nicky Henderson believes he has two live chances in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with top-weight Buzz and Mister Coffey.

Henderson, who has won the richest handicap hurdle of the season five times – one more than the great Ryan Price – has his fingers crossed Saturday’s meeting can survive the current cold snap.

He has booked promising conditional Kevin Brogan to help ease the burden on Buzz, while stable jockey Nico de Boinville will ride Mister Coffey.

“I like Mister Coffey a lot,” said Henderson.

“After he won on his debut last year, where he was impressive, we took him to Huntingdon – and because I didn’t think there’d be much pace on, I said ride him handy.

“Well, he literally took off with Nico. He ran the first mile as if he was in the St James’s Palace, not a novice hurdle at Huntingdon, so not surprisingly he didn’t get home.

“Since then we’ve spent a lot of time trying to re-educate him to settle. First time out this year at Sandown, he was great – it was very bad ground, but he was dropped out and came through to win comfortably. He was then third in a better race at Sandown.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Buzz finished third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle first time out before bolting up at Ascot, for which he was handed an 11lb rise. But he still ran Not So Sleepy close last time out.

“We’re going to claim 5lb off Buzz with Kevin Brogan,” Henderson added, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“He’s got top-weight, so it seems sensible to claim – 5lb is the optimum claim, because 3lb isn’t enough and 7lb doesn’t get you enough experience in a race like this.

“Kevin has been riding very well – he’ll know what to do, and that 5lb is valuable. He works for Jonjo (O’Neill) and he came recommended from (agent) Dave Roberts, who said he was the man I needed.

“I won this race for Thurloe (Thoroughbreds, owners) with Sharpical, and they shared Geos with Pier Pottinger who won it too.

“He won too easily the first time he ran at Ascot. He didn’t used to do much in front and when he got there I thought he’d falter, but he ran away. If you are trying to get in off the right mark unfortunately that is not what you want to happen, so consequently we’ve rather shot ourselves in the foot.

“I think they are both the right types for this. I can’t say it has been a long-term plan, but we’ve said for a while this is where we’d go with both horses. They are genuine two-milers. Both in time might get further – but you need to stay well, and I expect the ground to be testing, so stamina will be required.

“They haven’t been laid out for it. They’ve run some very good races this season and have been getting on with the job.

“Thankfully I don’t have to pick one over the other – I honestly think they both have a good chance. Buzz might be the sharper of the two – but Coffey, now he’s learned to race, I think he’ll be very competitive.”

Wild Max (right) on his way to winning at Huntingdon
Wild Max (right) on his way to winning at Huntingdon (Tim Goode/PA)

Paul Nicholls also holds a strong hand in the big handicap, with Wild Max, Friend Or Foe and possibly Thyme White.

“For Thyme Whyte I’ve been waiting for better ground over the winter, which is why you haven’t seen him since Newbury in November. He could do with the ground drying up a little bit,” said Nicholls.

“Both Friend Or Foe and Wild Max don’t mind soft ground and have been running very well.

“Wild Max won the last day, and Angus Cheleda will take 7lb off him. He’s in seriously good order and is improving.

“Friend Or Foe won at Wincanton and was hit by a big rise (13lb) from the handicapper and finished second at Sandown. He’s gone up again since Sandown, so he is right at the top end of his mark.

“He’ll have to improve again really, but he deserves to take his chance. I’ve got to talk to his owners and sort out who rides him. Ideally he could do with few pounds off his back, so we’ve got to decide on that one.”

Henderson making plans for Newbury and Sandown

Nicky Henderson reports Champ in good order for his belated return to competitive action at Newbury on February 13.

Last season’s Cheltenham Festival winner is unbeaten in four visits to the Berkshire track, and will be having his first outing since his eyecatching victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, where he charged up the hill to deny Minella Indo.

Henderson said: “He is all set for the Denman Chase and we’re looking forward to it.”

With Haydock still under threat from the elements on Saturday, Henderson may have to reroute Buveur D’Air to the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on February 6.

The former dual Champion Hurdler has not raced since a piece of wood from a hurdle became lodged in his hoof when beaten by Cornerstone Lad in last season’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, requiring him to undergo surgery.

His trainer said: “It looks like we will have to forget Haydock and head to Sandown. It’s a race he’s won three times and it will be good to get him back.”

Buveur D’Air started 1-4 for the race in 2017, 1-16 in 2018 and 1-5 in 2019.

Buveur D’Air looks set to return in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown
Buveur D’Air looks set to return in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown (Simon Galloway/PA)

Back to Newbury and Henderson is readying a team of three in the Betfair Hurdle, headed by Buzz, who could end up with top-weight in the £125,000 contest.

The Seven Barrows handler will back up the Thurloe Thoroughbreds-owned gelding with Mister Coffey and the mare Marie’s Rock.

Henderson landed the prize for Thurloe syndicates with Sharpical in 1998l, as well as Geos in 2000 and 2004. He has an exemplary record in a race originally known as the Schweppes, and is pleased with this year’s challengers.

He said: “Buzz has always had the race on his radar, but after his good efforts this season will have to carry top-weight. He’s in good form and very well in himself.

“Marie’s Rock had been off for a while when she returned here in November and will all being well do some work on Saturday.

“Mister Coffey is in very good form and an intended runner.”