LIKE all trainers, Nicky Henderson is praying this weekend’s huge fixture at Newbury goes ahead as the big freeze continues to decimate National Hunt racing.
Henderson’s problem, however, is that he has such an abundance of equine talent that he is running out of suitable prep races prior to next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The good news, however, is that the Berkshire track could see the first turf action since Ayr’s low-key meeting on Monday, paving the way for the Seven Barrows handler to saddle Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run in the Betfair Denman Chase.
Henderson also intends to run top novice chaser Sprinter Sacre, a past Doncaster winner, in the Betfair Super Saturday Chase.
With Darlan in line for the Betfair Hurdle, the most lucrative handicap hurdle in Europe, it promises to be a massive day for the Henderson team, and the trainer does not even want to contemplate the fixture falling victim to the cold snap. “It doesn’t even bare thinking about,” he said.
Henderson is also on the lookout for suitable opportunities for hurdling stars Oscar Whisky, a likely rival to Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle, and Binocular, the 2010 Champion Hurdle hero.
Both missed engagements last weekend because of the weather and Oscar Whisky could run in a ‘jumpers’ bumper’ at Kempton tomorrow, should the scheduled turf fixture fall.
“He’s in very good form and I haven’t ruled it out yet,” added Henderson after walking the Newbury course yesterday.
“I would consider running as I don’t really want him having a hard race and there is nowhere else to go. I’m running out of options for him and he’s not a horse I’m desperate to run.
“He’s 99.9 per cent to go World Hurdle (at Cheltenham).
“Binocular is our biggest problem and we’re just summing up the options for him. There is the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso next week, but you’re talking about a journey in uncertain conditions.”
This week’s major action aside, Henderson said he needed a break in the weather to get further experience to the members of his Cheltenham-bound team.
“There are novice hurdlers and novice chasers that need runs and the other thing that is very shortly going to become a horrible problem is the deadline for the handicaps is coming up,” he added.
“For the novices, you have to have three runs and a lot of them are sitting on two. You need to have a third run and we haven’t got long to go.”
The continuation of the big freeze means today’s NH cards at Doncaster, Huntingdon and Taunton are off – they were all abandoned earlier in the week.
Tomorrow’s card at Bangor hinges on an 8am inspection today while Kempton will stage an all-weather card for NH horses if its turf course is frozen.
Inspections will also be held today to determine Saturday’s prospects for Warwick and Uttoxeter.
Additional fixtures have also been announced for Kempton on the all-weather on Saturday afternoon, and a ‘jumpers’ bumper’ card at Southwell on Sunday.
The weather is less of an issue in Ireland where Steps To Freedom, favourite for Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will line up on the Flat at Dundalk a week tomorrow. Unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, trainer Jessie Harrington is keen to get another run into her rising star following a winter break.
“The great thing was we got him to Cheltenham in November and he’s got experience of the course now,” she said.