Henderson reveals Simonsig will miss key Cheltenham Festival prep race

Simonsig, the hot favourite for the Arkle Trophy at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, will miss his intended prep race in the Betfair Super Saturday Chase at Newbury this weekend after a routine trachea wash on Thursday evening showed that he could be harbouring an infection.

Saturday’s race, better known as the Game Spirit Chase, was won by Sprinter Sacre, one of his stablemates at the Nicky Henderson yard in Lambourn, on the way to an easy victory in the Arkle last season. It would have been Simonsig’s first race against senior steeplechasers, and he was quoted at short odds for victory earlier in the week.

Henderson told the Racing Post on Thursdayevening that the result of Simonsig’s trachea wash was “only 95%, [and] we’d only run if it was 100%”. As a result, he will now be giving a week to regain full fitness before Henderson decides whether it will be possible to run Simonsig again before the Arkle on 12 March, the opening day of the Festival meeting.

If Simonsig does not run again before Cheltenham, he will go to post for the two-mile novice championship on the back of just two starts over fences, both of which were victories in which he has faced only four opponents. His most recent win came in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novice Chase at Kempton on 27 December.

Simonsig is top-priced at 5-6 for the Arkle Trophy, ahead of Overturn, from Donald McCain’s stable in Cheshire, on 4-1.

Peter Casey, the trainer of Flemenstar, said on Thursday that his chaser will not wear ear plugs in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Saturday, contrary to some reports earlier in the week. “That’s all a mistake,” Casey said. “We were thinking about it, but that’s all gone now, no earplugs.”

Flemenstar is the narrow favourite for Saturday’s race ahead of Sir Des Champs, the winner of last season’s Jewson Novice Chase at the Festival. The outcome is likely to decide whether he runs in the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham next month, although Casey still believes he would be a worthy opponent for Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

“I’d love to be going for the Queen Mother [Champion Chase] to tell you the truth,” Casey said, “and taking on Sprinter Sacre. He has plenty of speed over two miles [the Champion Chase trip] and over two and a half [Ryanair] and he’s a good jumper. We’ll have to wait and see, and then we’ll know after Saturday.

“It was probably us that got him beaten [on his first try at three miles in the Lexus Chase last time]. We changed the tactics with him to see if he’d get the three miles, and looking at the race, you’d say that he didn’t get it, but it’s going to be different this Saturday, and we’d hope that it will get it this time.

“I don’t know how many runners there will be, but we fancy him, anyway. He has to learn to get home over the three miles, that’s all that we want.”

One horse who could well be running on the final day of the Festival is Chris Pea Green, who took a strongly-run renewal of the Chatteris Fen Trophy by seven lengths at Huntingdon on Thursday. Gary Moore’s juvenile is now top-priced at 33-1 for the Triumph Hurdle next month.

“He won a bumper here that I thought was a donkey race, then I should never have run him [in a bumper] on the all-weather,” Moore said. “I was amazed how easily he won at Lingfield last time, but I thought the race was no good.”