This has traditionally been the time of year when Binocular causes Nicky Henderson a major problem, but the trainer believes his troublesome gelding could just be in the shape to redeem himself in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Exactly two years ago Binocular was reported an unlikely starter as he was suffering from a muscular problem, only to later be able to start, and capture, Cheltenham’s two-mile championship.
The following season he was ruled out for definite when a prohibited substance used to treat an allergy would still be in his system at the Festival, so he skipped the race and instead suffered heavy defeats to stablemate Oscar Whisky at Aintree, and to Champion hero Hurricane Fly at Punchestown.
As Henderson paraded the eight-year-old to the cameras at his Cheltenham press morning, he appeared more than satisfied with the way Binocular looked, having re-entered calculations with an effortless victory
at Wincanton earlier this month.
JP McManus’ representative had only tackled the Kingwell Hurdle when stablemate Grandouet joined the stable’s other Champion contender, Spirit Son, on the injury list.
“He was going to have a racecourse gallop and when he ran, we thought he might need it, but he didn’t,” Henderson said.
“He looks slick and happy and enjoyed the other day.”
The trainer had already disclosed the fact Binocular had a breathing operation after winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
He added: “I know AP (McCoy) didn’t come back with a grin on his face at Kempton but he was brave enough and AP commented on his wind.
“When horses are missing a beat, nine times out of 10 it’s respiratory. Did it make a difference? I don’t know.
“He just looks really well – he looks like a good racehorse.
“Hurricane Fly came out on top of the pile last year by quite a long way. I’d like a phalanx to run against him but we’re down to one.
“At least he seems to come in here probably as well as when he won the Champion Hurdle.”
Oscar Whisky, third in last year’s Champion, steps up to three miles for the first time in challenging triple winner Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Henderson said: “The trip is the question. He’d have the speed if he’s got the stamina, and he’d have as good a chance as any other horse has had of taking (Big Buck’s) on for a bit.”
Bobs Worth, who had a breathing operation after finishing third to Grands Crus in the Feltham, delighted the team when second at Ascot last weekend and continues to thrive ahead of the RSA Chase.
Likewise Riverside Theatre, who won this month’s Ascot Chase for a second consecutive year and was robbed of his place in the Ryanair Chase 12 months ago when fracturing his pelvis shortly before the Festival.
Finian’s Rainbow is the flag-bearer for the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Henderson feeling Sizing Europe will be very difficult to beat, while he continues to juggle names for the race named after his father, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
The likes of Tanks For That, Anquetta, French Opera and Bellvano are all in contention.