NICKY Henderson was actually holding a carrot as opposed to a cigar when he discussed his "A-Team" for the Cheltenham Festival.

He might be less grey than George Peppard and shorter than Liam Neeson but he is the man who will be leading the assault on Prestbury Park.

It is rather hard to see the slight figure of Corky Browne, Henderson's long-serving head man at Seven Barrows, Lambourn, as BA Baracus but Henderson does have someone big and powerful whom he will be hoping can wreak havoc for him next week. He was the one being fed the carrot.

As Sprinter Sacre consumed the offering, the trainer offered his thoughts about the four days that consume jump racing. The carrot dangling in front of him, and every other trainer, is those all-important Cheltenham Festival winners; the benchmark that can make or break a season's work.

He applies what he described as "Henderson logic" to his final preparations for a team that is likely to be around 30 runners, taking some horses to Kempton Park for a racecourse gallop while others worked on the local Mandown schooling grounds, relying on gut instinct as to what each horse needed. That may sound haphazard but the sureness of touch that Henderson has shown in winning a record 51 Festival races since 1985 proves there is far more method than madness to his thinking.

The horse closest to Henderson's heart is Sprinter Sacre, and, when Sprinter Sacre's heart skipped a beat at Kempton in December 2013, Henderson's all but stopped.

The recovery - which included missing last year's Festival - has been slow and painstaking but Sprinter Sacre will run at Cheltenham on Wednesday when he attempts to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase for a second time. Two years ago it was like a royal precession as the horse won by 19 lengths at odds of 1-4. Now he takes on Sire de Grugy, last year's winner, and Dodging Bullets, the horse who beat Sprinter Sacre when he made his return at Ascot in January.

That was probably the most discussed runner-up since the hare got turned over by the tortoise at odds-on. The attention focused upon Sprinter Sacre might be enough to drive some trainers mad but Henderson has become used to it.

"I'm glad to say we've got plenty to worry about," he said as one thought collided with another. "Well, no, dream about. It would be a dull old life if you didn't and I might as well go somewhere warm for the week.

"There he is," Henderson said, with a flourish as Sprinter Sacre stood quietly. "He's still alive."

When Sprinter Sacre failed to appear in the first half of this season some doubted whether the horse rated the best steeplechaser of recent years would be seen again.

At his best Sprinter Sacre was akin to a force of nature but Henderson's instincts told him that he could not force his recovery to follow the calendar or the fixture list.

"Nature is what it's all about," he said. "We were just waiting for that spark that wasn't there last year. You've got to let it happen, you cannot force it.

"The early parts were hard work but since Ascot he's been great. He had a quiet 10 days and then put on a nice bit of condition which gave us something to work on."

The days of unconditional belief that Sprinter Scare will win have been replaced by something more like hope as Henderson admitted that he was not sure if the horse could work his way back to those towering performances.

"Is he back to what he was? For those two years he was unbeatable," he said.

"Now, I'm not saying we're unbeatable and it wouldn't matter what anybody threw at him. I can't tell you he's that, but he's in serious good shape. He's doing everything we've asked him to but trying to find out if he's back on the gallops is pointless because I'm trying to get him ready for one race.

"It's what we all wanted last year and it didn't happen but it looks now that they're all going to get there so it will be a great race. They've got a crown that we want back. I'm not confident but I'm hopeful and it's all going according to plan."

And as the man with the cigar said: "I love it when a plan comes together."