Sprinter Sacre to lead Nicky Henderson's team of chasers as jump season begins at Cheltenham

Trainer Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre
Trainer Nicky Henderson says Sprinter Sacre continues to give people "so much pleasure"

Nicky Henderson jokes he'd have been capable of giving farmers who are said to continually grumble over the state of the weather a run for their money during the recent, prolonged dry spell.

As the main section of the jump racing season gets into full flight with the Open fixture at Cheltenham (11-13 November), the three-time champion trainer reports his powerful string is operating 'behind' some others, because the grass gallops have been simply too firm to do anything on them.

That said, it might not stop outstanding novice hurdler Altior embarking on a hotly anticipated career over steeplechase fences at the Open, where injury-ravaged former top-notcher Simonsig is also set to line up, attempting to win his first race since tasting a second victory at Cheltenham's showpiece National Hunt Festival way back in March 2013.

And another on the stable's horsebox, as it heads for the Cotswold track, will be talented hurdler Hargam.

Additionally, the return to the track of reigning Queen Mother Champion Chaser Sprinter Sacre, undisputed star not only of the Henderson string but also of the sport as a whole, is only just around the corner.

Speaking about his weather-related frustrations, Henderson told BBC Sport:

"We're lurking below boiling point because it's been so ridiculously dry, putting us behind.

Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham
Sprinter Sacre is the winner of 18 of his 24 races

"At home, we've got all-weather gallops galore, but I just love working on grass especially with the big, heavy horses so everything we run this weekend has hardly seen a blade of grass since last season.

"It's funny, last winter it never seemed to stop raining for one single, solitary minute, so you were scuppered without a soft ground horse, now this - racehorse trainers are like farmers and will always tell you the weather is wrong."

Henderson's historic Seven Barrows HQ on the edge of the Lambourn racing centre in Berkshire houses well over 100 horses, among them some of the most talented performers in jump racing.

Altior is described as being in "extremely good form" ahead of one of Cheltenham's early-season dress rehearsal for the Festival, the Arkle Trophy Trial.

A similar assessment comes regarding Simonsig who's build-up to the Shloer Chase - a stepping stone towards the Champion Chase at the Festival - has gone, unusually, "without hiccups".

Hargam, meanwhile, arrives for the Greatwood Hurdle - for some the start of a campaign aimed at the Champion Hurdle - off the back of a win, although having most weight in the handicap is a concern as "he's not the biggest in the world to do that".

It was in the 2015 staging of the Shloer Chase that Sprinter Sacre announced himself back in the big-time with a sparkling, runaway victory, his first since completing a rare hat-trick by winning at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown spring Festivals two-and-a-half years previously.

Altior
Novice hurdler Altior is described as being in "extremely good form"

And casting aside the doom merchants and other sceptics who speculated that despite a debilitating heart condition being successfully treated, he was 'gone', the flamboyant 10-year-old, ridden by new regular jockey Nico de Boinville, carried all before him in the ensuing months.

Three more, ever-more-emotional quality trophies followed, at Kempton, then at the Cheltenham Festival, where he regained the Champion Chase title won during that big-race purple patch in 2013, and finally, on the last day of the season, at Sandown.

Henderson admits the return to the top had him and owner Caroline Mould momentarily wondering about retirement for 'Sprinter'.

He said: "People said why are you doing it, why don't you pack it in and say thanks, we've done it. But we said give us a reason why not [to continue], and there was no reason.

"I think he was a better horse at Sandown than he was at Cheltenham - he was getting back to his very electric best at Sandown, so of course we want to keep on going, the plan is to go Tingle Creek [Chase, Sandown, December], Ascot [Clarence House Chase, January] and then back to Cheltenham in March."

Acknowledging the vast public affection for Sprinter Sacre, the winner now of 18 of his 24 races, nine of them at the sport's highest, Grade 1 level, Henderson went on: "We are the curators of this beautiful, very special racehorse.

"It's very humbling to think that he gave, and he gives, so many people in national hunt racing, which is a great big family affair really, so much pleasure.

"Realistically, if he can get back to where he was between Cheltenham and Sandown last season, then you could expect literally anything [could happen], and it's so far so good - he seems absolutely 100%."

Back at the Open, another among the list of talent due on display is the Colin Tizzard-trained rising star Thistlecrack, just the sort of horse whose brilliance makes him so lovable; one day he could easily gain the same level of public support as Sprinter Sacre.

Cheltenham's three-day Open runs from Friday, 11 to Sunday, 13 November.