He could have been forgiven for thinking ‘what if’ when former pupil I Am Maximus sauntered his way to Randox Grand National glory – but Nicky Henderson was simply thrilled for all concerned and three days at Aintree he feels the sport can look back on with pride.

It still seems remarkable Henderson has not trained a National winner during what continues to be a hugely distinguished career, and it is perhaps indicative of his luck in the world’s most famous steeplechase that I Am Maximus was housed at his Lambourn base before switching to Willie Mullins in Ireland.

The future National hero won both a Cheltenham bumper and a Newbury novice hurdle while in the care of Henderson, who admits he was the one runner he was keeping a close eye on during Saturday’s main event.

“I’ve let one slip through the net,” quipped Henderson. “It’s ironic, you spend 45 years trying to win the Grand National and you finally get your mitts on one and we let it get away.

“He was here and spent his first two seasons here – he was a lovely horse – and he was the one horse I wanted to win yesterday.

“I suppose the only thing I might have done to contribute to his success was probably the way we minded him quite a bit when he was young, because he was big and backwards and raw.

“He was a lovely horse with a great temperament, but he wasn’t really ready for big battles in those days and just needed to be treated with respect – and I think that’s what we did.”

He was owned at the time by Michael Grech, who was to switch all his horses to Ireland in the summer of 2022, with I Am Maximus joining Mullins’ swelling Closutton ranks to embark on a novice chasing campaign which culminated in Irish Grand National success in April 2023.

Grech sold I Am Maximus to JP McManus before that Fairyhouse triumph and sadly did not get to see his former charge’s finest hour at Aintree, having died in September last year. But Henderson believes the horse’s big-race victory will be a lasting tribute to his good friend.

He continued: “I’m thrilled, he belongs to JP, who is one of my biggest supporters here and Willie is a great mate – I told him he needed to go get that horse. I’m genuinely thrilled for them.

“Sadly, he had to move on (from ourselves) and Michael Grech was lovely, we had some tremendous days together and it was great fun. The horses then had to go over to Ireland and sadly Michael died and it’s very sad because he was a lovely man.

“All his family were there yesterday, Maxine (his wife) and his children and it was a sad day for them, but he won in Mike’s memory.”

Henderson did not have a runner in this year’s National, but was keen to heap praise on officials at Aintree for not just the successful alterations they made to the race itself, but for the three days in Liverpool overall.

The 73-year-old roared back to form himself on Merseyside after a testing Cheltenham Festival, with star performers Sir Gino and Jonbon both scooping Grade One honours.

He described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, with racing deserving of a massive pat on the back after a thrilling three days of action in the north west.

“I thought it was a fantastic race and it was a brilliant three days, you won’t see better racing anywhere,” said Henderson.

“Aintree need huge credit for it and after Cheltenham everyone was so down and out, it was all so gloomy and everything was wrong, so after all that, we need to say this was brilliant.

“I wasn’t going round Cheltenham doom and gloom because I couldn’t play, but I was back playing the game again this week which was good fun and the horses ran well throughout the week.

“It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always a paramount – and I just thought it was the best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere and it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.

“The sport did very well for three days and I know we are all under the cosh at Cheltenham and under pressure and maybe things get a bit heated or overtried, but up at Aintree everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy it and they did – and I thought it was first class all the way through.”

What has already been a special couple of days in Liverpool for owner JP McManus has the potential to be even greater as he can look forward to five runners in the Randox Grand National.

His famous green and gold silks have been carried to victory four times in the first two days, and he celebrated an incredible Grade One treble on Friday.

Having watched Inothewayurthinkin and Iroko provide him with a one-two in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, Mystical Power, a son of Galileo and the Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power went one better than at Cheltenham in the Top Novices’ Hurdle.

However, he was especially pleased to see Jonbon, denied a run at the Cheltenham Festival due to the cloud hanging over Nicky Henderson’s yard, land the Melling Chase.

“Days like these are very special so you’ve got to celebrate and enjoy them,” said McManus.

“Jonbon winning meant a lot because it has been a trying time for Nicky over the past two months so to see him up there, you could see it was special to him.”

McManus has been lucky enough to win the National twice already, firstly when providing Sir Anthony McCoy with his only success, at the 15th attempt, on Don’t Push It, and then he watched Rachael Blackmore create history on Minella Times in 2021.

“I don’t think there is any race like the Grand National. From being a kid I always had a bet in the National, no matter how old you are it is the one race everybody watched,” said McManus.

“If you go to the local hurling club or wherever, they’d all know who won the Grand National.

“Look at AP (McCoy), it took him a long time to win it but I know how much it meant to him when he did, I’m just surprised these days he doesn’t say he should have won it twice!”

Despite having won all there is to win in racing, the former bookmaker still admits to getting excited about the famous race.

“I’ve been coming to Aintree since 1976, Rag Trade I think, I may have missed one in between and the covid one,” he said.

“It’s an unbelievable race, the National, you think about it 12 months before and try to think if you’ve one good enough to run in it.

“We run five tomorrow but hopefully we’ve one real one, I hope.

“I’ve had a little on Limerick Lace at 25-1 each-way because I thought that was a big price, but if my life depended on it I think I Am Maximus is the one. Willie (Mullins) said we’re going to try to win the Grand National and then the Gold Cup!”

Jonbon took the step up in trip in his side as he roared back to his best with a brave success in the My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old has been campaigned solely at two miles so far over fences and won both the Shloer Chase and Tingle Creek in the early stages of this campaign.

However, a narrow reverse in the rearranged Clarence House was followed by missing the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as Henderson effectively shut down his operation on account of the poor stable form.

Trying two and a half miles for the first time, Jonbon (11-10 favourite) travelled supremely in the hands of Nico de Boinville, with Jack Kennedy keen to make this a stiff stamina test sending Conflated to the lead where he was closely shadowed by Pic D’Orhy and Minella Drama.

Jonbon and Protektorat were always hot on that trio’s tail and as Kennedy continued to pour on the coal aboard Conflated down towards two out, Jonbon loomed menacingly with Protektorat staying on strongly.

Nico de Boinville edged Jonbon to a narrow advantage jumping the last and the Seven Barrows star pulled out all the stops as he kept on right to the line to hold off the game Conflated, with Protektorat back in third after a thrilling conclusion to the Grade One event.

Relief was the overriding emotion for Nicky Henderson after Sir Gino got the Seven Barrows handler back in the big-race winner’s enclosure with victory in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

The trainer endured a torrid time at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, with the disappointing performances of several horses leading him to withdraw a number of others, unbeaten juvenile Sir Gino being one.

The Triumph Hurdle absentee proved his worth on Merseyside, though, tracking the Cheltenham runner-up Kargese into the home straight in the hands of Nico de Boinville.

The 11-10 favourite was far from foot perfect at the next couple of obstacles, but picked up well after a good leap at the final flight to prevail by three and a quarter lengths.

Henderson said: “We knew what we were walking into and while it is a relief, one swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say.

“He galloped right through the line in what was a messy race, it was awfully stop-start. His jumping was untidy up the straight but you could see from the speed on the screen, it got slowed up dramatically, the second was pulling hard as well but he’s done what he had to do.

“He is a very good horse but he’s got a long way to go. He is in Punchestown but that was in case of protestors or bomb scares or something stupid, but I wouldn’t have thought that was high on the agenda.

“I always had the feeling he was going to pick up the second but you could get a tidier race than that.

“He’ll have to stick to hurdles next season but I’m not going to think about that now. I know where one person (Constitution Hill) is going, so we’ll have to see if there’s an alternative route.”

The most high-profile absentee from Henderson’s Cheltenham squad was, of course, last season’s Champion Hurdle hero Constitution Hill, who has since been in hospital after suffering from colic.

Henderson added: “All trainers know what a spell like we’ve had is like, the problem we had was the timing, unfortunately it was more public than was probably necessary because we literally bumped into Cheltenham.

“We were sat at home watching the Triumph Hurdle. At least we’ve got through a little bit but we’ve got to do it all again now, the yard will be relieved though.

“Constitution Hill is fine now, thankfully. I’m not sure if he was watching but he’s a two-mile hurdler and that is what this is, they might get to know each other.”

Willie Mullins said of the runner-up Kargese: “It was a very good run, the winner is a tremendous horse and it’s great to see Nicky’s horses back in form. I’m delighted for him and Joe and Marie Donnelly (owners).

“Our filly is probably her own worst enemy, she has to learn to race, as she’s too keen. She will mature I hope and make it easier for Paul (Townend) to ride her.

“She looks a very good filly for next season but I think she’ll go to Punchestown first. It’s only up the road from us and she won’t need any galloping between now and then. We’ll freshen her up and bring her back for Punchestown all being well.”

Sir Gino preserved his flawless record with a neat victory in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s gelding missed the Cheltenham Festival as the stable was under a cloud and looked to claim his first Grade One in Liverpool instead.

Under Nico de Boinville, he did so with little fuss, winning comfortably as the 11-10 favourite after a good jump at the last.

Jonbon steps up to two and a half miles for the first time in Friday’s ultra-competitive My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has won multiple Grade Ones over the minimum trip but connections have been minded to try him over further for some time.

Having missed the Cheltenham Festival due to concerns over the form of his string, Henderson will be hoping for a better display than the one which saw him beaten at 1-4 in the rearranged Clarence House Chase when he made several jumping errors.

Taking him on are this year’s Ryanair winner Protekorat and the 2022 winner of that race Envoi Allen.

Protekorat had spent a large part of the previous two seasons running over three miles but excelled dropped in trip last month, while Envoi Allen put up a game defence of his title in second.

Paul Nicholls won the race last year with Pic D’Orhy and the nine-year-old is back again searching for a valuable win for his handler in the race to be champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott’s Conflated also runs in this in preference to the Grand National, with Easy Game and Minella Drama completing the field.

Two smart mares, Golden Ace and Dysart Enos, will meet again in the TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle.

Fergal O’Brien’s Dysart Enos came out on top when they met in a Grade Two bumper at this meeting 12 months ago but she was denied her chance to go for glory at Cheltenham due to a minor setback.

In her absence Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, beating some well-touted Irish contenders.

Standing in their way is Willie Mullins’ Supreme runner-up Mystical Power, the third Firefox and Ben Pauling’s promising Personal Ambition in a field of eight.

There are six in the Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase and none can be confidently ruled out.

Cheltenham winner Inothewayurthinkin and Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico will have plenty of supporters.

Henry de Bromhead sends over Heart Wood, Broadway Boy gets the chance to atone for missing Cheltenham, with Giovinco and Iroko not out of it either.

The Mullins-trained Dancing City and Readin Tommy Wrong, Shanagh Bob, Croke Park and The Jukebox Man, agonisingly reeled in by Stellar Story in the Albert Bartlett, are among nine in the Cavani Sartorial Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson expects to know by Thursday evening whether his horses are over whatever was ailing them during the Cheltenham Festival, with Sir Gino and Shishkin all set for Aintree.

Henderson endured a miserable week in the Cotswolds and after racing on Wednesday of that week decided discretion was the better part of valour, pulling out all of his high-profile runners.

“Rather like before Cheltenham we’ve kept testing them and just like then, everything is fine – that’s the only worry really. It keeps telling us everything is fine,” said Henderson.

“The horses seem really well in themselves, the last work has all been done, they seem bright and perky and we’re looking forward to it.

“We’re going to know our fate pretty quickly. By Thursday night it will either be happening or it won’t be happening. Obviously we go with a fair amount of trepidation, but things seemed to have improved dramatically from the perspective of their work and everything at home.

“We’ve hardly run anything, but the two reasons we haven’t run anything, for instance at Hereford today I couldn’t make an entry on the card – I couldn’t find a horse who was qualified to run in any race, and of course the ground is desperate, so we’ll start at Aintree.”

After a quiet 10 days the Seven Barrows handler has been building them back up to peak fitness and Sir Gino, who had been odds-on for the Triumph Hurdle, will be first to test the water in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

“He was a horse that I honestly couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but we’d lost all confidence and I couldn’t face running a young horse like him,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“We’ve made no bones about it, we think he’s seriously good and I just couldn’t risk him. Joe Donnelly was wonderful because we had to take Sir Gino, Shishkin and Shanagh Bob out, all his, but there was no point in running them after the first two days.

“I trust in this fellow and he’s going to go out there carrying the Seven Barrows flag and I’m sure everyone is going to watch him like a hawk – I hope for all the right reasons.

“He won at Auteuil and as everybody knows, if you can handle that you can handle most things, and it was pretty soft on Trials day (at Cheltenham).”

Shishkin will then get his chance to shine in the Aintree Bowl having missed the Gold Cup.

“The last week seems to have been great, Nico (de Boinville) rode him in his last piece of work on Saturday and said he felt fantastic and he’s looked up for it all this week.

“I just think everything has gone right, but he’s had a funny old year. He didn’t start, then he threw away the King George and then he won the Denman. Whatever anybody’s opinion of the King George doesn’t matter, he was still running a great race. The Denman was more than an ideal preparation for the Gold Cup, but here we are in the same place so hopefully all systems go.”

Henderson also runs the mares Luccia and Marie’s Rock in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

He said: “Luccia was the one bright light at Cheltenham. The Champion Hurdle had fallen apart as far as we were concerned without Constitution Hill, but Luccia ran a fantastic race when she was a very close third.

“The only thing here is we are going up half a mile. We haven’t thought about it a lot and always felt she wouldn’t stay, but one day you have to try and if she does stay from next season’s point of view it gives her so many more options. The alternative was to wait for Punchestown and walk into Lossiemouth.

“Marie’s Rock is between here and the three-miler, but in this sort of ground two and a half will be plenty for her. She’s got stamina and goes in the soft, but it’s a very tough race.”

Nico de Boinville paid Constitution Hill a visit on Tuesday and said the former champion hurdler is feeling “a bit sorry for himself”.

Nicky Henderson’s stable star has had no end of health trouble this season, scoping dirty in January and then being laid low with an infection which ruled him out of the defence of his Champion Hurdle title.

Just when connections had hoped for some light at the end of the tunnel and a possible run at Punchestown, he was then struck down by suspected colic and spent a few nights at the vets.

It was a relieved Henderson that informed everyone on Monday he was now back at Seven Barrows and De Boinville was keen to check in on him.

“Everyone has been kept in the loop. I went to see him this morning and hopefully he picks up in the next couple of weeks,” he told Racing TV.

“He’s certainly feeling a bit sorry for himself and I can see why.”

Constitution Hill is back at Nicky Henderson’s yard after a colic scare, with any thoughts of a trip to the Punchestown Festival now firmly ruled out.

The Seven Barrows handler announced on Sunday that his superstar hurdler had been taken to a veterinary hospital due a suspected colic on Wednesday night, describing it as a “few traumatic days” with the unbeaten gelding.

Henderson issued an upbeat bulletin on Monday with Constitution Hill returning to the Lambourn yard to continue his recovery, although the 2023 Champion Hurdle hero is in need of an extended period of rest.

That means a potential clash with last month’s Cheltenham victor State Man is now off the agenda until next term.

In a statement posted on X, Henderson said: “Constitution Hill returned to Seven Barrows this morning and it is wonderful to have him home after what he has endured.

“He resumed normal feed yesterday with no further ill effects and had a nice pick of grass in the welcome sunshine.

“Hopefully this is all behind him now but I am afraid it is easy to see he had a difficult week and the reality is he is going to take some time to recover and put some weight back on again.

“Therefore our much anticipated match with State Man will have to wait until next season.”

Constitution Hill has run just once this season after cold weather scuppered his initial planned return in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, with deep ground seeing him bypass the rescheduled event at Sandown.

He won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day in a canter, but an unsatisfactory scope saw him miss an intended Trials day run at Cheltenham before a respiratory infection ended his hopes of a Champion Hurdle defence last month.

The Fighting Fifth is pencilled in as a starting point for next season, though Henderson’s main priority remains Constitution Hill’s health.

He added: “As long as he is OK that is all that matters, but it has been a horrible few months since his great performance in the Christmas Hurdle. It is time for him to have a summer holiday now look forward to his return, hopefully in the Fighting Fifth.”

Nicky Henderson is planning a quiet few days as he tries to get to the bottom of the issue that scuppered his Cheltenham Festival hopes.

With Constitution Hill ruled out of a Champion Hurdle defence the week before the fixture due to a respiratory infection, Henderson’s week got off to an inauspicious start with five of his six runners pulled up on Tuesday.

That prompted the Seven Barrows trainer to rule out a string of leading contenders, with Jonbon missing his Champion Chase date, ante-post favourite Sir Gino sidestepping the Triumph Hurdle and Shishkin ruled out of his Cheltenham Gold Cup assignment due to an unsatisfactory scope.

A handful of Henderson runners did perform with credit at Cheltenham, most notably Champion Hurdle third Luccia, and Persian Time offered a further glimmer of hope when digging deep for a neck verdict in the Try Unibet’s New Acca Boosts Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Henderson has no entries until Spring Note at Newbury on Friday and will now attempt to establish what has troubled his recent runners.

He told Racing TV: “It has been a difficult 10 days because to be fair, I think we knew before we went there that they hadn’t been running to what you would hope for.

“It’s nice just to sort of close the whole week down, we have nothing else (running) today.

“We probably will have hardly any runners next week and let the whole thing settle down and see if we can get to the bottom of what has been ailing, although it’s difficult to say ailing as they seem to be well, everything checks out right but they certainly checked out wrong at the top of that far hill last week – they couldn’t get over the top of it.

“I think we just take the whole thing apart and try to put it back piece by piece to see if there is a piece missing anywhere. I think there is something missing – there is no doubt about that – they’ve got to keep ticking over and I’d like to go quietly for one week and just let the whole thing die down.

“Everyone has been so incredibly helpful and I really appreciate it. We have just to got to see if there is a piece of the jigsaw missing and I hope it’s as simple as that, but it’s not there in black and white.

“Normally with the blood tests and scopes you can identify a problem – there’s just no sign of an issue. I do think the horses look well, they seem to be well, their work has been good, everything checks out right but they just weren’t performing at all and at the end, we just didn’t run – you were just getting scared to run.

“We will be quiet next week, hopefully we can then kick on to Aintree and Punchestown. There’s a lot still to come and they will come back I am sure. We have got a wonderful team at home and are surrounded by great people and we will get it back on track.

“I think everyone knows what Cheltenham is to nearly all of us and to come out of there like that – we’ve just had some wonderful years but you’re never going to get complacent about it. The amazing thing was the support we have had, everybody has been fantastic and I’m very grateful.”

Persian Time was last seen when pulled up behind Ginny’s Destiny at Cheltenham’s Trials day in January, but after bouncing back to form, a trip to Ayr could now be on the agenda for the gelding, who is owned by the McNeill and Stone families.

Henderson added: “He’s been good at home. On Trials day, he didn’t really want to have a cut at his fences there, then he was much happier today. He was tanking going down to the start and you could tell after the first three fences he was a different horse today.

“He’s a nice fellow and he’s going the right way, so let’s hope we can keep it going. There will be plenty more for him this season I would hope.

“I know Ayr is their (owners) very favourite track so I would think we might be scouring the programme book to see what there is for him there. he ran very well in a novice hurdle up there last year and just got touched off by what’s turned out to be a decent horse – Ayr could be good.”

If anybody had said in the year 2000 that approaching the 2024 Cheltenham Festival a single trainer would be on the verge of saddling 100 winners at the meeting, it would have been seen as preposterous.

Nicky Henderson already had 20 to his credit and he now sits on a very respectable 73, but back then Willie Mullins only had six – and four of those had come in the Champion Bumper.

It is quite remarkable, then, that this year Mullins has brought up his century, after getting the required six to hit the magic number inside the first two days of the meeting.

Here, we take a look at 10 of the very best horses that appear on Mullins’ Cheltenham roll of honour:

Tourist Attraction (1995 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)

The very first Cheltenham Festival winner for Mullins. At a time when he was still an amateur rider himself, he entrusted Mark Dwyer with the mount on the mare who went off a 25-1 outsider. In beating subsequent Arkle winner Ventana Canyon, Mullins proved he was capable of mixing it with the very best. She only ran once more herself but went on to produce Pete The Feat, a prolific winner for Charlie Longsdon who went on to race until he was 15.

Cousin Vinny (2008 Champion Bumper)

By 2008, Mullins was a major player at the Festival and had begun to farm the Champion Bumper having won it five times in all. However, there is no doubt if you were to ask him which was his most memorable success in the race, he would nominate Cousin Vinny, as it was a first Festival winner for his then 18-year-old son, Patrick, who has gone on to break all records as an amateur jockey.

Quevega (Mares’ Hurdle 2009-2014)

There was not much to the diminutive mare who arrived from France in 2007 but once Mullins worked out the key to her, she created her own piece of Cheltenham history. While some disagreed with the way she was campaigned, as from 2010 onwards she made her seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham, there could be no doubting the execution of the plan. The extra races have undoubtedly helped Mullins rack up his incredible numbers and many would have preferred to have seen Quevega try her luck in the Champion Hurdle or more likely the Stayers’ given she won the Punchestown equivalent four times. Either way, just running in the same race six times is a notable achievement, never mind winning it.

Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle 2011 and 2013)

Another who created his own piece of history. Hurricane Fly, who came with a tall reputation as a Listed winner on the Flat in France, became the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle, lose it and then regain the crown. Injury meant he missed the first two Cheltenham Festivals he was eligible for, and given he beat that year’s Supreme winner, Go Native, by 10 lengths at Leopardstown in the Christmas of his novice season, you would have to think that is one that got away, and the year after that he came back from injury to win at Punchestown. His defeat in the 2012 Champion came on the fastest ground he encountered and the winner of 24 of 32 hurdle races certainly loved the mud.

Vautour (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2014, JLT Novices’ Chase 2015, Ryanair Chase 2016)

In terms of pure natural ability, Vautour has to be among the best Mullins has ever trained. The day he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by six lengths he looked impregnable and he would have taken all the beating in the Champion itself. Sent straight over fences, he recovered from a blip at Leopardstown to bolt up by 16 lengths in what is now the Turners. A horse who certainly saved his best for Cheltenham, he won the Ryanair with a display that took the breath away, even if it met a muted reception due to owner Rich Ricci stating at a Cheltenham preview evening the horse would run in the Gold Cup.

Faugheen (Neptune Novices’ Hurdle 2014, Champion Hurdle 2015)

One of Mullins’ most popular trainees, on his day he looked nigh on unbeatable. A very easy winner of what is now the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle, the following season he endured a very un-Mullins-like preparation for the Champion Hurdle by running at Ascot and Kempton first. His only run in Ireland that season came after he had already won the Champion, when he went to Punchestown and was even more impressive. Sadly, injury curtailed him after that and he did not run between January 2016 and November 2017. Never quite the same, he did win a Grade One novice chase at Limerick and it was to his credit that his final start came at Cheltenham when third in the 2020 edition of the Marsh (Turners) Novices’ Chase.

Douvan (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2015, Arkle 2016)

Oh what might have been. Super talented but also, ultimately, incredibly fragile. There were no signs of the heartache to come as he waltzed through his novice hurdle season unbeaten, or when he won all six of his novice chases the year after. That he had a subsequent Gold Cup winner in Sizing John seven lengths behind him in the Arkle spoke volumes. However, when 2-9 favourite for the Champion Chase the year after, he made mistakes and trailed in seventh, finishing lame. He had a year off but returned for the same race only to fall four out when leading the field a merry dance.

Al Boum Photo (Gold Cup 2019 and 2020)

Despite dominating the Festival by now, Mullins had yet to win the blue riband, coming close on several occasions. Step forward the unglamourous Al Boum Photo. No star over hurdles, he would have gone close in the 2018 RSA Novices’ Chase when falling two out, breaking Ruby Walsh’s leg in the process. The following season he ran once before the Gold Cup, winning a minor race at Tramore, and his 12-1 success at Cheltenham caught a few out. But he repeated the trick 12 months later, with Mullins sticking to the same routine. He finished a five-length third to Minella Indo when bidding to emulate Best Mate.

Allaho (Ryanair Chase 2021 and 2022)

If ever a race and a horse were a match made in heaven it was surely Allaho and the Ryanair Chase. Viewed as a stayer in his younger days, when he was third in the Albert Bartlett and RSA in his novice hurdle and chase seasons, it was not until the intermediate trip was settled upon that he was seen to his best. Eschewed by Paul Townend in favour of Min in 2021, Rachael Blackmore made no mistake and the punters sent them off favourite, suggesting Townend had made the wrong call pre-race and so it proved, with Allaho winning by 12 lengths. Townend did not make the same mistake again, with a 14-length success a year later. Unfortunately injury has ruled him out of the past two Festivals.

Galopin Des Champs (Martin Pipe 2021 and Gold Cup 2023)

Unfortunate not to be going for a fourth successive win at the meeting given he tipped up when miles clear as a novice in 2022, he must have been some certainty in the Martin Pipe the year before off 142. Mullins has got him right back to his best mid-season after two defeats and he looks to hold massive claims of emulating his former stablemate Al Boum Photo and you would not put it past him to go one better.

Shishkin has not been declared for Friday’s Boodles Gold Cup at Cheltenham following an unsatisfactory scope.

Trainer Nicky Henderson had already ruled out Jonbon from Wednesday’s Champion Chase, among others, after five of his six runners on the first day of the Festival were pulled up.

The form of the stable had been a talking point heading into the biggest week of the season, hot on the heels of his brightest star Constitution Hill working poorly at Kempton and subsequently being pulled out of the Champion Hurdle.

Henderson posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Very sadly it will not be possible for Shishkin to run in the Gold Cup on Friday. He was scoped as have all our potential runners this week, but unfortunately he has shown an unsatisfactory picture on which he couldn’t possibly run.

“He appears to be 100 per cent in himself and has been working and schooling better than ever and we were really looking forward to Friday, it is hoped that along with all the other non-participants this week that they will be back in time for Aintree or Punchestown.

“Regrettably Champ has also succumbed and will not run in tomorrow’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the equivalent race at Aintree could be on the agenda.”

Nicky Henderson has reacted to his overall poor results on the opening day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival by withdrawing several runners on day two, including Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase hope Jonbon.

Henderson went into this year’s Festival under a cloud following the withdrawal of Champion Hurdle title holder Constitution Hill and a disappointing run of form from his stable as a whole.

Luccia provided the Seven Barrows handler with a boost when finishing third behind State Man in the Champion Hurdle, but his other five runners on Tuesday were all pulled up.

Henderson posted on X: “I’m afraid we have had to make some very tough decisions following the very disappointing performances of all bar one of our horses yesterday.

“It was there for all to see that there is obviously something affecting nearly all our horses and consequently we have reluctantly decided that Jonbon, First Street and Kingston Pride will not run today.

“It is impossible to identify any reason for all the disappointments and none of these horses have given us any cause for concern and all yesterday’s runners were scoped clean post race and I am glad to say all are sound this morning.

“There will unfortunately be further non-runners on Thursday and Friday.

“I hope everybody will appreciate that we have to do this in everybody’s interests, particularly the horses. It is very, very disappointing for everybody.”

Among Henderson’s high-profile entries for the rest of the week are JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Gino and leading Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Shishkin.

Nicky Henderson is optimistic Jonbon can give familiar foe El Fabiolo a run for his money when they clash for a third time in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Jonbon was a narrow victor when the top-class pair first clashed in a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree in April 2022, but El Fabiolo took his revenge 12 months ago when running out a facile winner of the Arkle Trophy.

With Jonbon making a fine start to his season with wins in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and the Tingle Creek at Sandown, and El Fabiolo successful on his reappearance in the Hilly Way at Cork, their rivalry was scheduled to resume in January’s Clarence House Chase, but the abandonment of racing at Ascot meant they instead went their separate ways.

While El Fabiolo stretched his unbeaten record over fences to six at the Dublin Racing Festival, Jonbon suffered a shock reverse in a rescheduled Clarence House on Cheltenham Trials day, with Henderson of the opinion that the extra week proved detrimental to his charge.

“I was really looking forward to Ascot and the clash with El Fabiolo, we were in absolute tip-top shape and I was very confident for that, we were very prepared for it,” he said.

“Jonbon is the one horse, when you’ve wound up the clock, a week was a long time for him, I couldn’t wind him up anymore and it gave us a headache of a week.

“They’ll go some gallop in the Champion Chase and I think that suits him. It looks as if Edwardstone has come into pacemaking duties and he looked very good at Newbury, but in some ways I don’t think that is a bad thing for us.”

El Fabiolo will look to provide Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with a third successive Champion Chase victory following the back-to-back triumphs of Energumene.

Townend said: “He’s made the step into open company well this year and goes here off the back of a good win at the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s another exciting one for the week.”

Edwardstone won the 2022 Arkle for Alan King, and while he was no match for Jonbon in either the Shloer or the Tingle Creek earlier in the season, he looked right back to his best under a positive ride in last month’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

“He’s never really been away and his two runs behind Jonbon were very good. All right his run at Kempton over two and a half (miles) didn’t work, which was disappointing, but he has done very little wrong in his life,” said King.

“He’s in good order, but this is a totally different ball game to the Game Spirit.”

On whether Edwardstone could attempt to make all the running, the trainer added: “We’ll worry about tactics on the day, but there will be plenty of pace on and the Tizzard horse (Elixir De Nutz) will go forward. We’re certainly not going to drop him in, but we’ll see what happens.

“We’ve had a good preparation, but it’s up to him now. It’s nice to be part of it, but I’m not going there with any great expectations that we are going to win it.”

Elixir De Nutz was the horse that inflicted defeat upon Jonbon in the Clarence House, a first Grade One success for trainer Joe Tizzard and his nephew rider Freddie Gingell.

Tizzard feels he merits his place in the Champion Chase field, even if he is a big outsider.

He said: “He’s in top nick and Fred had a sit on him last Monday. He’s ready to go.

“He’s probably had his Gold Cup this season but if there are any flaws in the others, then he will be bang there.”

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Captain Guinness was best of the rest behind Energumene in last year’s renewal and is back for more after placing third behind El Fabiolo at Leopardstown.

“He was just a bit unfortunate at Christmas, but other than that he’s been brilliant,” said De Bromhead.

“It would be amazing if he could go one better than last year, fingers crossed.”

Nicky Henderson was back among the winners on Saturday to give him something to smile about as he awaits the Cheltenham Festival fate of Constitution Hill.

The champion hurdler scoped badly in the immediate aftermath of his disappointing Kempton workout on Tuesday, while blood test results received on Thursday gave connections even more cause for concern.

A further scope conducted on Friday appeared more encouraging, but Henderson revealed a second blood test to be taken on Monday would be the “acid test”.

He said: “The blood test on Monday will tell us everything and we will know where we are after that.

“If we don’t get the results we want on Monday I wouldn’t go as far as to say it will be the end of the season. Let’s just cross each bridge when we come across it.

“When you train horses you are going to walk into these situations and you’ve got to face up to it.

“It had all been too easy. Everybody thinks it is ‘ABC’ and it has been with him, except he can’t tell you when he’s wrong because he so laid-back about life.

“He’s the slowest walker, the slowest trotter and you have to drag him out of bed on a morning. With most horses you can tell, but with him you can’t as he can’t talk to you, most horses can.”

Spring Note won at Newbury for the Seven Barrows handler, while the Grade One-winning Jango Baie finished second in front of Henderson at Kelso, after which he said: “That’s the second time he’s had to run in a really good race with a 5lb penalty, it stops them. But if you win a Grade One you can’t have your cake and eat it.

“He’s a good horse. He wants to go up in trip, there’s no doubt about that, two-mile-two is tight for him. You could go two and a half but he won over two miles at Aintree, mainly because he stays.

“Over fences he’ll be going three, I’d imagine, and he’ll be very good. This time next year hopefully we’ll be talking about Cheltenham with him.

“Of course it’s nice to see one run well, I’m conscious of what’s happening, but it’s not a lot of pleasure, I can tell you that.

“To be fair the ground in our neck of the woods is so bad, and our horses always want better ground.”

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