Nicky Henderson has effectively conceded defeat in his bid to retain his crown and claim a sixth champion jump trainers’ title.
The Seven Barrows handler trails leader Paul Nicholls by more than £400,000 – and admits he faces an uphill battle in clawing back the deficit in the final five weeks of the season, despite planning to send a strong team to Aintree next month.
He said on Saturday afternoon: “That (title) we have rather given up on, on the grounds that I’m very unlikely to have a runner in the Grand National, let alone win it. I think we will concede there and look forward to Aintree.
“There is no pressure. There are a lot of nice young horses to get on with and run. We will have a big team for Aintree and Ayr.”
Heading Henderson’s team for Aintree could be dual Champion Chase winner Altior, with a step up to two and a half miles for the first time under consideration for the nine-year-old in the JLT Chase, better known as the Melling Chase.
He said: “I’m the first to admit it looked (at Cheltenham) as if another half-mile could be right up his street. It is the first time I’ve thought that, as he looked an out and out two-miler.
“Even there, suddenly for a second they had got to him, but as soon as he realised he had to go and do something – he wasn’t that tidy over the last, and he landed half-a-length down, but five strides later he was two lengths in front.
“Two and a half miles around there is not an enormous test of stamina, and if he fails to stay at Aintree he won’t win a King George.
“I discussed it with Patricia (Pugh, owner) last night and we will discuss it longer, and I want Nico (de Boinville) to sit on him next week to see if he is happy and take it from there.
“The easy option is to wait for the Celebration Chase (at Sandown), as we would have all the time in the world.”
Compensation could await Buveur D’Air, who fell in his bid to claim a third successive Champion Hurdle title, with Henderson leaning towards a tilt at the Betway Aintree Hurdle.
He said: “I would think he would go there. He has been good. He has had a good check over and everything seems to be in order.
“It might have helped to learn to pick his feet up a tiny bit higher. His jumping is very slick and low and deadly accurate.
“The deadly and accurate bits went out of the window in the Champion Hurdle as he missed it by an inch.”
While his team for Aintree has yet to be completely finalised, Henderson hinted both Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills and RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase runner-up Santini could feature, along with several names that missed the Festival.
He added: “There are all sorts of permutations. Birchdale won’t go, but Champ could and Pentland Hills could.
“I’d like Santini to go, as he had a horrible preparation before Cheltenham. He should come on for that. He won around Aintree last year, but I can’t think it’s his track.
“I’m hoping Mr Whipped will come into play and Downtown Getaway will come into the three-mile novice hurdle. Precious Cargo could run at Ayr or Aintree.”