NICKY HENDERSON admits the Festival dream could be over for Champ and Altior if they fail to deliver this weekend at Newbury.
And after Willie Mullins fired a pre-Festival warning shot with 9 winners at the Dublin Racing Festival, Henderson hopes to respond.
He laughed: “What I saw was quite frightening at Leopardstown. I made sure not to show the horses!”
Weather permitting, two-time Champion Chase winner Altior is set for a clash with Greaneteen in the Game Spirit after his shock Kempton defeat last time out.
And Henderson’s big Gold Cup hope Champ should make his first start of the season against Clan Des Obeaux and Lostintranslation in the Denman Chase.
Henderson said: “There’s always pressure on in these races, and so-called trials.
“For Champ this is more of a prep, but for Altior this is a trial. These times aren’t easy for us at the moment.
“The dream is still alive, but by Saturday night the dream could be over and that would be blisteringly disappointing.
“Altior has won the Champion Chase, but when you think you’ve got a Gold Cup horse and a Champion Chaser, I need to go to bed on Saturday still with that.
“If everything went wrong, it really would be dreadful, it would be like being stabbed in the back at this time of year. You go into these days with some trepidation.”
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Back-up plans have been drawn up for both stars with Champ left in the Stayers’ Hurdle and Altior holding a Ryanair entry.
But Henderson hopes it doesn’t get to that stage.
He added, in a call hosted by Great British Racing: “Champ has been for two away days. We couldn’t have him any fitter.
“We’ve been very happy with him over the past couple of weeks. Before that he was just making a bit of a noise so he actually had a wind-op, a hobday, which is quite significant.
“The timing of this weekend is perfect for the Gold Cup.”
Champ and Clan Des Obeaux are the 6-4 joint-favourites with sponsors Betfair, with Altior odds-on at 4-6 for the Game Spirit.
Henderson continued: “Everything has gone well with Altior, I think, but this is the next step.
“He seems better to me than he was before Christmas, his work has been better than then.
“He’s got to be more aggressive than he was at Kempton, but I think he will be, he looks sharper.
“But it looks as if he has lost a yard of his pace. There used to be hardly a horse that could work with him. He’s not quite there now, he’s eleven and perhaps that brings in stamina.
“And we’ve left him in the Ryanair just for that option. If Newbury tells us that.”
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