At Cheltenham-time there is always pressure, but Henry de Bromhead may be feeling the heat more than most this year.
There is not only the weight of expectation for his own star horses but also now the added pressure of handling three more Festival-bound superstars, including Envoi Allen.
This comes after the arrival to his yard of five Cheveley Park-owned horses, with the operation deciding to remove eight horses from Gordon Elliott’s care following the emergence of a picture on social media showing the trainer sitting on a dead horse.
De Bromhead knows how to win on the biggest stage of course, having earned nine Festival winners to date, but he has never been caught up in such a tumultuous build-up to the Prestbury Park bonanza before.
Alongside Envoi Allen, Quilixios (JCB Triumph Hurdle) and Ballyadam (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) both have the credentials to succeed, but it has hardly been ideal preparation for them.
“It’s obviously not the circumstances of how you’d like to get horses, but these are the horses everyone’s trying to get and I feel fortunate that Cheveley Park have decided to send them to us,” De Bromhead said.
“The three that are entered for Cheltenham include Envoi Allen and he seems great.
“They came down and they looked great when they arrived here, so it’s just a case of trying to tick them over and not let the change of regime upset them too much. If we can do as good a job as Gordon has done with them, we’ll be delighted.
“Of course, you would a bit [feel extra pressure with the new horses], but you’re just trying to do it as best as you can and get them there as best you can.
“It is a big change for them and you try and keep it as simple as possible but it is a big change. But they seem good and they’ve settled in really well, so we’ll just tick them over and try and get them there in good shape.”
Despite his previous Cheltenham success, a glaring omission on De Bromhead’s CV is Gold Cup glory – but could that change this year?
Irish trainers have prevailed in four of the last five runnings, and they may do yet again with favourite Al Boum Photo chasing an illustrious hat-trick.
But De Bromhead has two strong contenders of his own in A Plus Tard and Minella Indo, the former being a likelier bet after memorably landing a Savills Chase thriller in December and set to team up with star jockey Rachael Blackmore.
“I’d say it would have to be up there [with his strongest teams ever], but we’ll see how we go,” De Bromhead added.
“I’ve had odds-on shots beaten and 50-1 winners here, so we feel very lucky with the horses we have and are bringing and we’ll see how it all unfolds.
“A Plus Tard was really good in the Savills Chase at Christmas. I am delighted with him. He had a hard enough race there so we decided to put him away for this.
“There aren’t many horses that can win a Grade One over two miles and be in the Gold Cup picture – Kauto Star would be one.
“He stayed very well at Leopardstown and looked like he needed every inch of it and so hopefully it will all go well for him. It’s going to be a cracking race and very competitive as you would expect.
“He is in mighty form now and loves Cheltenham – he comes alive over there and his record is brilliant.
“He has a real live chance. It was tough to get nabbed like he was last year by Champ, but that’s Cheltenham – these things happen and there is always drama.”
Away from the Gold Cup, there are plenty of other lively prospects among De Bromhead’s ranks – including star mare Honeysuckle.
After winning the Mares’ Hurdle 12 months ago, she has added Hatton’s Grace and Irish Champion Hurdle successes since and now turns her attention to the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Meanwhile, Put The Kettle On could follow in a long line of Arkle to Queen Mother Champion Chase winners, as she looks to add to her impressive record at Cheltenham.
“She [Honeysuckle] seems in good form and all is good,” De Bromhead said. “We were delighted with her at Leopardstown winning the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“She looks very effective over anything, really. All the judges say her last day was her best performance so far. She looks very good over any trip of two to two and a half [miles], thankfully. She’s an amazing mare and we feel very lucky to have her.
“She [Put The Kettle On] loves it over there. She’s just come alive since she started going there and just keeps improving all the time.
“Obviously she had the option of the Mares’ Chase but we’ve decided to go with the Champion Chase.
“I suppose the records of Arkle winners are so strong and we’ve got our mares’ allowance so we’ve said we’ll give it a go.”