Horse RacingJump Racing

Nicky Henderson: “Much of our attention will begin to focus on Aintree”

March 22, 2019

AFTER a hectic week at Cheltenham I’ve just arrived back from a holiday in Malta where I enjoyed a few days sailing around the Mediterranean with some pals and while it’s always great to ‘switch off’ you’re never far away from the office but at least I’ve had a slightly better view from it for the last few days!

Much of our attention will begin to focus on Aintree which is just two weeks away but who goes there is still very much undecided as I need to assess how our Cheltenham runners have come out of their respective races. Speaking of which, I was delighted to get four winners on the board and really pleased for Nico who finished up top jockey for the week, and Jerry to ride his first festival winner on Beware The Bear after coming agonisingly close on Rather Be twelve months ago so that was thoroughly deserved.

Cheltenham Reaction

Altior was clearly the highlight and despite making it look like hard work, I think he was always in control and came home in good style. He is an extraordinary horse because he just gets everything done. AP McCoy was here last night and said Altior is just so professional in everything he does who knows what he’s got to do so gets on a does it. I think AP was even considering coming out of retirement to ride him but I’m not sure what Nico would have to say about that!

Much of the talk will now be what we do next and I suppose the 32Red King George would have to enter the equation because I think more than ever now he is definitely looking as though he wants another half a mile at least. He’s just as good at two miles but the good thing about him is that you can switch him off which means he should have no problem getting further.

He has come out of the Champion Chase very well, better than last year for sure, so I would quite like to go to Aintree for the G1 Melling Chase (over 2m4f) on the Friday of Aintree but I need to speak to Patricia and Chris Pugh this weekend before we make any final decision.

Buveur D’air sadly suffered a tumble in the Unibet Champion Hurdle which was a terrible shame but he’s had no problems since, bar feeling a little sore straight after, and we would still like to go for the Aintree Hurdle.

Might Bite looked to run very well in the Gold Cup up until a certain time before it all came to an abrupt end. He doesn’t seem to be jumping with his usual fluency and accuracy so we had his back looked at this morning just to see if there is something we could put our finger on but the physio says it’s the best back he’s ever seen on a racehorse so I have to admit I’m completely flummoxed.

I keep getting different theories; Nico wants to go back in trip, somebody else wants to do something else and the other person wants to do that so I’m very much! I have absolutely no idea where we will go next as I don’t want a reproduction of what we’ve seen so far this season but Punchestown, on some nice spring ground, is a very distinct possibility IF we can get him back 100%.

Pentland Hills was very good in the Triumph but we may have been fortunate owing to the fatal injury to Sir Erec which was absolutely dreadful as he looked a potential superstar and my condolences go out to JP, Joseph and everyone associated with him. It cast a shadow over the whole race but we did quietly fancy our horse to go well after his Plumpton win, although I was concerned that he’d had just one run over hurdles which is not the normal thing to be doing going into Triumph Hurdles.

Apart from the first when I thought ‘oh god I know we shouldn’t be doing this because he obviously doesn’t know enough’ it sort of rattled his cage a bit and he concentrated on doing what he was doing from there on. He was relatively smart on the flat but he’s proven now that he can handle softer ground as well as good and I would think it’s highly likely that he’ll turn up again at Aintree in the 4-y-o race there.

Beware The Bear keeps pulling it out of the bag and it was a completely different performance from anything else we have seen when winning the Ultima and I have to admit I now rather regret not having left him in the Grand National!

It’s not as if the owners said ‘don’t do it’, I just didn’t see the point as there’s too much hurly burly early on but now we have learnt the best way to ride him is to let him start where he’s happy and creep into the race when he wants, rather than bustle him along early to try and get him interested and into a position.

My theory is now to let him start at the back and don’t push him to lay up; just let him go to sleep for 90% of the race and then come with a rattling finish for the remaining 10% – it’s easy when you know how! I honestly don’t know where we will go next with him, there is the old Whitbread, Scottish Grand National and we also put him in the Topham but he’ll have a lot of weight in that so we’ll see what the owners would like to do.

William Henry was great in the Coral Cup and I thought he put up a fantastic performance. I didn’t massively fancy his chance beforehand but I don’t mind being proved wrong and he’s come out of the race in great shape. We’ll probably find something for him at Aintree along with We Have A Dream and Countister who both ran great races in the County Hurdle but have been clobbered by the Handicapper.

Santini was fantastic in the RSA considering the preparation he’d had which was pretty much non existent and I wouldn’t mind taking on the winner (Topofthegame) again with that run under our belt. He was pretty sore for a couple of days after the race but is perfectly fine now and to be fair he won around Aintree last year (over Hurdles) so there’s nothing to suggest why he can’t go back there for a crack at the Mildmay Novices’ Chase. It doesn’t appeal to me as his ideal track, very much like Kempton, and you would be pretty nervous about Le Bague Au Roi, but he’s not slow and I think he will surely come on a ton from Cheltenham.

Champ was beaten fair and square in the Ballymore by a very good horse but lost nothing in defeat and he’ll make a very exciting chaser next year and I think it was my fault where Birchdale is concerned as I should have left him at 2m4f rather than 3m as he travelled the best but just didn’t see out the trip unlike Dickie Diver who genuinely stays three miles and ran a great race to finish fourth in the Albert Bartlett.

Angel’s Breath was quite keen going down to the start for the Supreme and during the race so I wouldn’t write him off just yet. The ground was probably a little softer than he’d like as well and it was a similar story for Mister Fisher.

Epatante was ultimately disappointing and I don’t really know why. We will go and try to win another novice and get her back on track. She could go to Aintree.

Others likely up head to Liverpool include Top Notch, possibly Janika, although he’s been clobbered by the Handicapper, and I’m particularly happy with Valtor who is very much Grand National-bound.

National Hunt Chase

There’s been plenty of chat about the National Hunt Chase and I think, yes, there were a couple of incidents in the back of the pack who should have pulled up but the suspension handed to Declan Lavery was utterly ridiculous and I’m glad the ban was overturned. It is equally ridiculous that some are calling for the race to be scrapped.

It has never been a problem before and you get one isolated day when it has gone wrong and everyone wants to ban it which would be a travesty. It may be a race for amateur riders, but they are professionals in all but name and I thought Laverty did nothing wrong at all. If you take it one step further and he’d have been suspended for not riding his horse to obtain the best possible position; I mean which way do you go?

Thankfully common sense prevailed but it was rather sad that it had to be brought up to this level as it has created very, very, very poor publicity for the race which is a real shame because the National Hunt Chase is perfectly alright as it is. Let’s not forget the race has been completely revamped about four times over; it used to be for Maidens and horses that hadn’t won Hurdles races and things like that but now you’re talking about top class horses ridden by top class (amateur) jockeys so I think they should leave it exactly how it is.

Runners at Newbury and Bangor this Saturday and my thoughts on their chances are below.

Saturday – Newbury


2:40 Juvenile Hurdle

Chaparral Prince (Nico de Boinville)

He has his own ideas about the game and didn’t look utterly in love with the game at Huntingdon last time in first time blinkers but we’re persevering with him and it’s just a question if he wants to use the ability he has. He’s still a Maiden and this is a competitive race but hopefully Nico can coax him along and get him into a nice rhythm and allow him to enjoy himself. We’ve been trying to make the running with him but may drop him out over this trip for the first time.

3:15 Mares’ Hurdle

She Mite Bite (Nico de Boinville)

She probably would have gone very close, if not won, at Ludlow last time but got brought down three out when travelling very well and I think the step back to two and a half will be in her favour. She has been very unlucky throughout the whole of the season and deserves to get her head in front. This is always a very competitive race but we have a good record in it and this mare isn’t far off the best of them so I wouldn’t write her off. Her work has been good and I think she has a right chance.

4:25 Novices’ Hurdle

El Kaldoun (Jerry McGrath)

I think the better ground will suit him here, unlike Sandown last time when it was quite testing, and he’s been in great form at home. Ideally he’ll be a much better proposition once handicapped and we can step him up in trip but he’s got ability and is one to keep an eye on in the future.

Sunrise Ruby (Nico de Boinville)

I thought she ran a very good race at Newbury last time when she would certainly have needed it but I also think the step down to 2m will really help as she’s a very athletic mare who has plenty of speed. She’s schooled and worked well.

5:00 Bumper

Versatility (Jerry McGrath)

He ran very green on debut at Warwick but has definitely learned a lot since then so will know his job much better here; however this is always a fiercely competitive Bumper and often throws up a very good horse but he’s qualified to run and his work has been good so we might as well give it a go.

Fugitives Drift (Nico de Boinville)

He was purchased relatively cheaply at Doncaster last May and is from a strong staying family so is sure to get further in time but we have a whole stack of Bumper horses waiting to get out and this horse has been ready to go for quite some time. We like him and he has a bright future but he’s up against some previous winners (albeit carrying penalties) so if he’s to win he’ll need to be pretty good.


3:25 Novices’ Hurdle 2m4f

Lomachenko (James Bowen)

He was entered in the 3m handicap but Dave Roberts reliably informs me this is a very good opportunity for him so who am I to argue! He’s well clear on ratings and while he’s no world beater, he won’t be far away here.