If you follow UK horse racing, Nicky Henderson is practically a household name, and if you’re new to the sport, you should get to know more about him. Here’s a look at one of the nation’s top trainers and why you should give his horses your attention when you’re betting to improve your profitability from your horse racing results. Born in 1950, Nicky Henderson is the son of well known racecourse owner Johnny Henderson, the founder of the Racecourse Holdings Trust, now called the Jockey Club Racecourses. This organisation owns many of the UK’s most notable racecourses, including Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom and the July Course and Rowley Mile at Newmarket. After attending Eton College, Nicky Henderson rode as an amateur jockey and then worked as an assistant to famous trainer Fred Winter. Henderson started his own training yard in 1978 and over the years has won many of the top jump races as well as a few notable Flat races. A member of the Lambourn Trainers Association, Nicky Henderson is based at Seven Barrows near Lambourne in Berkshire. He has an impressive 175 horses under his care and has been the British Jump Racing Champion Trainer three times. Over his career, Henderson has had more than 2,000 winners, including more than 50 at the Cheltenham Festival. He is known for producing spectacular jumping competitors year after year. Some of Nicky Henderson’s most renowned winners include the following which will bring back fond memories to many of those who followed them: ● See You Then ● Punjabi ● Binocular ● Remittance Man ● Caracciola ● Bobs Worth ● Simonsig ● Long Run ● Sprinter Sacre Nicky Henderson has been training long enough to employ a number of racing strategies that have landed him in the winner’s circle quite frequently. He’s very adept at judging a horse’s best running distance and how well any horse will do on various going, or “ground,” as he refers to it. Henderson maintains a stable of several horse breeds, including both Thoroughbreds and Selle Français horses, the latter known for their superb jumping skills and natural athleticism. Nicky Henderson also knows how to play into the age cycles that periodically affect his stable. When he has older horses, he learns their every in and out, so he knows exactly how to place them in a race. He’s patient with younger horses too, which some trainers disparage due to their lack of experience. Henderson sees their raw potential. He’s a keen believer in “bumpers” as a way to introduce new horses to National Hunt races and to check out their prospective talent. “Bumpers,” in case you tend to skip over them on the race card, are officially known as National Hunt Flat Races, which sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. These are flat races for inexperienced horses that are being targeted for hurdles or steeplechases to get them used to the distances and the large fields before introducing them to jumps. National Hunt Flat Races are called “bumpers” because they used to be run by amateur jockeys, and the lack of experience all around led to a lot of bumping on the racecourse. Henderson gets terrific horse racing results by utilizing these often overlooked events, but he rarely places a horse in a field of more than 15. Racing National Hunt Flat Races and giving younger horses a chance are part of Henderson’s philosophy that “there are no bankers,” no horses that are ever guaranteed to win, no matter what conventional wisdom dictates. Nicky Henderson hasn’t been without his share of controversy. In 2009, he was fined and suspended from British racing for three months after a horse he trained for the Queen, Moonlit Path, was revealed after the race to have tested positive for tranexamic acid. This drug, which had been commonly used to prevent excess bleeding in racehorses, has been banned at UK racecourses as a performance enhancer; Henderson argued he had administered it for the horse’s benefit. The next time you watch a race and see one of Nicky Henderson’s horses on the card, you may think more about backing it. Given his breadth of experience and winning record, you could do far worse when betting a trainer. This article is courtesy of John Hawthorne. Originally from Canada John’s interest in horse racing began at an early age. After traveling abroad his interest became a passion. He now is a full time sports writer and focuses on Australian horse racing.
Un De Sceaux put in a stunning performance at Leopardstown last weekend, proving to be far too good for both Clarcam and Gilgamboa. He was immediately cut to a short-priced favourite for the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The race was billed as a true test for Mullins’ chaser, a tough encounter that would prove just how good he really is. As it turned out, it appears he really is quite good. The time confirmed that the race was run at a decent clip. Un De Sceaux set the pace as always and was slick and measured over his fences. Clarcam was produced to challenge at the second last fence, but was swiftly swept aside. Ruby Walsh had a yawning 15 lengths to spare by the time they hit the line. He’s not a particularly big horse, but that appears to have little effect as he jumps effortlessly, seemingly without breaking stride. It was also impressive how he galloped relentlessly to the finish, never once looking like folding off the strong pace. It was a performance that is difficult to knock, but I will try my best to do so in an attempt to give realistic hope to the other contenders. It’s fair to say that the horse can only thrash the opponents set before him, but for me the quality of that opposition has to be questioned. This may seem a strange comment after Leopardstown, which saw him take on two highly thought of novice chasers. My problem is this. Clarcam is only a five-year-old and as such is still very much a raw individual at the embryonic stage of his career. He only achieved a mark of 140 over hurdles and that was gained in a particularly weak juvenile division. None of last year’s young hurdlers have progressed with the likes of Plinth and Tiger Roll absolutely thrashed in Grade 1 hurdles this winter. Gilgamboa also achieved a mark of 140 over hurdles and although he’d looked impressive so far over fences, his breeding suggests he will be better over further. He also appears to be ground dependant and was clearly outpaced on Sunday. In his previous run, Mullins’ exciting chaser had thrashed Smashing at Fairyhouse. Again it was a visually stunning performance, but once more he was beating a five-year-old who certainly needs a trip to be seen at his best. True the horse won well next time out, but in a very poor contest. Of course it may sound as if I’m desperately searching for reasons why this outstanding looking chaser could be beaten at Cheltenham. And it may well prove that he is by far the best two mile novice chaser around. But nothing is certain at the Cheltenham Festival and many a ‘sure thing’ has hit the buffers over the years. Indeed only three favourites have won the Arkle Chase since 2000 though Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre and Azertyuiop were the shortest priced at 8/15, 8/11 and 5/4 respectively. So who could possibly beat this latest short-priced cert? Or maybe the question should be; is there a better value bet in a race for novice chasers? Josses Hill appears to be the obvious place to start. Second in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he was always thought of as a top-class chaser in waiting. He is trained by Nicky Henderson who has won the Arkle on five occasions, most recently with Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig. The horse is also partnered by Barry Geraghty, who happens to be the most successful jockey in the race’s history with four wins to his name. Josses seasonal debut was delayed and he has only had two runs over fences to date. It’s fair to say that his jumping has been patchy and this will need to improve if he is to land a blow on Un De Sceaux at Cheltenham. But he is a huge stamp of a beast, who if in range turning for home is sure to charge up the famous hill. He is set to get further race experience before March and his odds of 9/1 seem fair. He looks a decent each-way proposition. Vibrato Valtat is likely to be Ditcheat’s main hope. It’s surprising that we have to go back to 2003 for the last Nicholls’ Arkle Chase success. Azertyuiop was guided home to victory by Ruby Walsh on that occasion. This latest contender appeared something of a monkey last season but has shown plenty of resolution in winning three of his four starts over fences this winter. He’s a strong traveller who’s pretty slick over his obstacles. Whether he has the class to win this is questionable, and a nagging doubt still remains over whether he would relish a battle up the Cheltenham hill. The famous silks of Mrs T P Radford were almost carried to victory in 2010 when Somersby just failed to overhaul Sizing Europe. This time round it’s Sgt Reckless who looks to go one place better for connections. He is another imposing horse that appears well suited to fences. One of the better novice hurdlers, he chased home Josses Hill at both Cheltenham and Aintree last season.His preparation for the Arkle in March has been rather unorthodox. Only once tried over fences, he then had an outing over hurdles and then a spin on the flat. He surely needs more practice if he is to beat the likes of Un De Sceaux, though Western Warhorse won last year’s renewal on just his second attempt over fences. I’ll mention just two more that have an each-way chance if making the start. Court Minstrel is as big as 40’s though is by no means a definite starter. He needs decent ground to have any chance and is thought by his trainer to prefer Aintree and Ayr. He has won at Cheltenham twice before though, one of those being impressively over fences back in October. He’s a classy type who often travels like a dream. Should the ground be suitable and should he take his chance he could certainly run into a place. Finally, a horse I’ve already backed at 33’s. John Ferguson’s Three Kingdoms was a whisker behind Vibrato Valtat at Kempton in December. He has since won at Doncaster and is proving to be a consistent performer. A son of Street Cry, I’m sure he’ll perform even better on the sounder surface that he’s likely to get at Cheltenham. He quickened clear of Thomas Crapper and Deep Trouble up Leicester’s hill in November. I fancy he could run a huge race at the festival. Of course they could all be chasing shadows on the ‘big day’. Willie Mullins came so close to winning his first Arkle Chase last year and he has another terrific chance this time round. But I’ll look for better value and hope for an upset. Should Un De Sceaux scorch the Cheltenham turf on his way to a stunning victory, I’ll happily cheer along with the masses. Truly great horses don’t come around that often. For more Cheltenham build-up, visit our Cheltenham Festival 2015 category.
The Clarence House Chase was rightly the centre of attraction last weekend. My first observation is that Grey Gold, Somersby, and Twinlight bettered, ran within 1lb, or ran too, their previous best RPR. That suggests the race was a true run affair with the form likely to hold-up.
DODGING BULLETS bettered his highest RPR by 6lb, agreeing with the official handicapper who now has him on a mark of 171. The winner jumped well and made progress running into the home bend, ultimately coming home to win comfortably. There has been no fluke about his recent wins or progress. Effective at Prestbury Park, and priced around 5/1, it is hard to argue that he is not a solid each-way selection. However, the stats below raise a worrying trend. DODGING BULLETS has run seventeen times over hurdles and fences. His record in races run in the months of February, March, and April reads; 2, 4, 6, 9, 7, 2, 4, 5. October, November, December, and January reads; 1, 1, 3, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1,1.
Moving onto Sprinter Sacre. I would normally report this was a pleasing return to action. Unfortunately, given the well-documented problems the horse has endured, we have to look at the performance in a different light. Experienced, pre-race paddock watchers, felt he looked fit prior to the race, if lacking the physical presence, he displayed in his pomp. His jumping was competent, without any of the flair or exuberance associated with his best performances. Sprinter Sacre travelled comfortably throughout the race until the second last, where he began to tire. Post-race he was not blowing hard, suggesting pre-race observations were correct. Finding traces of blood has to be a concern; it should not be forgotten the horse had a breathing operation in 2013. Normally it would be easy to forgive what was a relatively minor reading on the equipment used by the vet. However, we are not dealing with normal. Perhaps the most telling words came from Mr Geraghty in one interview. “He gave a good feel, his jumping will get slicker, he’ll be better for match practice, fitness, and everything, so I’d be hopeful we’d narrow the gap come March.” The words “narrow the gap” do not for me, inspire confidence. Denman was a similar scenario. He took several races and a summers rest to regain his best form, and most importantly his confidence.
FSF Ratings 179
SPRINTER SACRE 179
DODGING BULLETS 168
SPRINTER SACRE 2015 168
Watch our JPFestival.com TV Punchestown Preview where the panel plus special guests Geoff Banks, UK’s leading independent bookmaker and Tom Thurgood, Channel 4’s blogger and social media whizz will be discussing the races below. Perhaps more than ever they’ll be loads of stars on show at Punchestown Festival 2013 including Sprinter Sacre. You can watch on your mobile or tablet as well as via YouTube. Please let us know your tips and views by posting in the Comments below. Note: You’ll need to be a Free or Community Member to post a Comment – find out more. Tuesday 23 April 2013 Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) Boylesports.com Champion Chase (Grade 1) Growise Champion Novice Chase (Grade 1) Wednesday 24 April 2013 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) Bet Online With TheTote.com Punchestown Gold Cup (Grade 1) Thursday 25 April 2013 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle (Grade 1) Ryanair Novice Chase (Grade 1) Friday 26 Apr 2013 Rabobank Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle
Spine-tingling sporting performances are rare. Every once in a while the fortunate sports fan is treated to a sporting achievement that hits stratospheric heights. On Friday at Aintree a horse, no ordinary horse admittedly, performed to such a level that onlookers were left grasping for new superlatives.
Sprinter Sacre was running over two and a half miles for the first time. Unbeaten and peerless over fences at two miles, he was stepping out of his comfort zone taking on Cue Card and Flemenstar in the Melling Chase. Nicky Henderson’s superstar looked certain to be tested by top-class opposition who were more experienced and maybe better suited to the distance.
Many pundits questioned whether Sprinter Sacre’s stamina would hold-out in the likely punishing end to end gallop. Both Flemenstar and Cue Card shared the burden up front. Even a rejuvenated Finians Rainbow had a brief spell at the head of affairs. Yet turning for home the writing was on the wall. An ice cool Barry Geraghty pulled the favourite out into the open and released a few inches of rein. Sprinter Sacre breezed past his opponents and cruised to victory with minimum fuss.
Cue Card gave chase and performed admirably. But Sprinter Sacre is in a league of his own. Usain Bolt once won an Olympic 100 metre title after jogging for the last 40 metres. This performance from the world’s greatest chaser was very similar in style and in its impact on the watching fans; we were witnessing an untouchable sporting sensation.
Enormous credit to Simon Holt for his wonderful commentary. “This is unbelievable, Sprinter Sacre’s going to beat the best on the bridle, seeing is believing, see the swagger, what a superstar, nine from nine over fences.”
Seeing was believing. What a performance. What a horse.
Sprinter Sacre, take a bow.
Bankers. We used to count the banker material in the car with my Dad on the way down to Cheltenham. It was our benchmark to success at the meeting. And that was the word- success, because losing at the Festival was a non runner for Bookies such as John Banks. The environment has changed. I don’t use betting exchanges to price up my book, I value opinion over trading between Bots and the numpties. I’m very much in the minority. Modern day Bookmakers can’t see past exchanges, trading every penny they take, offering a very poor service to the customer, which starts with uniformity of odds. We have to thank Rob Hughes, casting vote chairman of the Levy Board for introducing exchanges to rings – now decimated. Bookies have become their own worst enemy. Me? I expect to win by taking the aggressive line. No, I didn’t offer ten pound bets on Sprinter Sacre at Evens, but then I’m not running a casino. I don’t study a yard of form pre-festival. It clouds my plans. If I sat up all night studying form, I’d surely end up with the same book of hotpots as the punters do. Dynaste, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Simonsig. My job is to get them beat. Tuesday rolls in, starting well for the Books, with the hard pulling My Tent Or Yours looking assured for victory, outbattled by Champagne Fever. Last year we started poorly and never looked back. This year was more muddled. Wins for Simonsig, Hurricane Fly and Quevega placed the straight bat layers behind the 8 ball. We lost- solidly. The bright spot? Handicaps. Result after result all week penned the punters back.. Wednesday, gloomy lot of Bookies clutched defeat from the jaws of victory in the first, with Back In Front rallying. Groans and queues around the Centaur for payouts. I employ 3 people to just pay out the cash, which by nature is more time consuming than accepting a bet – it wasn’t enough! The office rang – running up bets onto Irish wonderhorse- Pont Alexandre in the next. This from multiple bets onto Back In Focus and yesterdays ‘heroes’. How much do we have it for I ask? ‘Don’t ask’, says my senior trader, we’re behind the sofa in here. Talking horse-not wonderhorse. And it kicks off panic with the punters. They barely scrape a return in another race for two days. Who cares about Sprinter Sacre? Not the Bookies-they ignore him. Ooh aaah, well done, move on. Round after round to the Bookies continued through Thursday. Had you asked me to write down my own set of results, I couldn’t have penned a better set of results. It was embarrassing, – well almost embarrassing. Thursday night we celebrated, care of the Richard Power firm in Cheltenham. Smiles all round and stories of derring do and how what looked on paper a punters festival, had turned so much to us. We were well in front. Friday. Hmmm. I remember thinking I would coast round, secure that even if the results were similar to Tuesday, we couldn’t finish behind on the meeting now. That’s not to say I intended backing off and hogging the pot. Oh No! not my way at all. I’m too daft to do that..Punters on the ropes and down. I was going to put my heel gently on their necks. Hard to remember a thought proven more wrong, as result after calamitous result ensued. The worst of which for me was Salsify in the Foxhunters. Backed in from 9/2 long term to 2/1. It was a catastrophe. It’s fair to say I was totally stunned at the manner of his victory. Iiterally speechless at the turn of events- and the noise in the Centaur was unbelievable! It didn’t surprise me to watch McCoy boot home the last favourite home. I was numb. The punters deserved their day. How much did the Festival cost the firms? Well, my firm lost double on Friday what it had reaped on Wednesday and Thursday. Those are traditionally quieter betting days. I’m not crying, I have a track record of winning long term. Overall, the Cheltenham bash cost the Bookies big time. More with the large offshore concerns, who outdid each other with one moronic offer after another. These days they seem to treat the whole event as an opportunity to pad their online products with lovely names and addresses. And the dimmies queue up to sign up as if it’s Christmas. Is that a fair comment? I believe so, because every tenner laid at evens on Sprintre Sacre usually gets ploughed into something else. I mean who deposits a tenner and goes through the rigmarole of withdrawing it the next day? It’s ploughed into some other product and Bobs your uncle. Whilst everyone from the BHA downward is clapping themselves on the back at producing another showcase event – and it was, I offer a word of caution. I listened to the great Micky Fitzgerald on the excellent Morning Line, a show I’ve been lucky to participate in, eulogising about his former boss producing the horse in tip top condition to wrest the big prize of the Gold Cup. And I congratulate my friend Nicky for his skills. However, the last time I saw the great Bobs in action was November. He wasn’t the only one of course. A number of top jumping stars rested from December onwards. Fine, the weather was poor in January, but there were still opportunities to be had, rejected by stable stars with owners rich enough to take the gamble and lie low for months. In the meantime viewers on telly, and worse attendees on course endured uncompetitive events and ‘match races’ for months. There have been 23 grade one events this season. 16 won by the favourite, and 6 by the second favourites. It highlights the predictable nature of jump racing these days, and hardly pads the Levy.It’s not good enough in my view. I don’t care who wins the Gold Cup, it’s a great institution, and whatever lifts the little cup, Dessie or Nortons Coin, is going to be big news. Micky Fitz was right to congratulate the great one, but he forgets the intervening months have become drab and boring. Might I remind those looking in- Desert Orchid ran 8 or 9 times a year. He was an athlete and so are today’s horses. It disproves the current lame excuse given for horses languishing in their boxes, that they’re not ‘capable’ of winning top races if they race in February. And if you’re Newbury or Kempton? You’re doing the industry no favours by permitting quiet gallops for top stars after racing. Ask Fontwell who provided 50 grand for a five runner race how they felt at the lack of ambition? Simonsig? Beatable. Dynaste beaten. Where was the inventiveness of connections then? Small fields for Championship races at the Festival? An alarming development for Racing. As for Quevega? Group class in a seller, just leaves me cold. There’s only one horse who cannot be bested these days. One. Let them race. By Geoff Banks
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human species there was a clear link between neuregulin 1 gene and creativity, a variant of this gene had been associated with mental illnesses. We saw today the genius that is Sprinter Sacre, the simplicity, the ability, the awe, all controlled. But did we see the signs of madness on Tuesday in the form of Simonsig and Zarkandar.
Whenever I see a horse that looks like he’s not be putting it all I’m always reminded of a phrase well used by James Willoughby, the “dark side”, below is an extract from his blog where Aidan O’Brien gave him “an amazing insight into his philosophy as a trainer”: http://thefiguresneverlie.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/equine-flow-psychology-iii.html
“But in faster work, the best horses were actually prepared to give more and dig deeper. And this was a significant part of what made them successful. In particular, what enabled his champions to rack up sequences, he implied, was a growing confidence that the feelings of all-out exertion wouldn’t hurt them; that they could give more freely and not back off from the increasing pressure on their system. But, if a young or developing horse pushed itself too far because of the flight response, it might be reluctant to mine its talent so deeply again. In my words not O’Brien’s, it could see the “dark side” of competition and learn that running hard hurts.”
I am firmly of the opinion that Zarkandar has seen this “dark side” and shared these thoughts when previewing the Champion Hurdle earlier in the month:
Zarkandar’s temperament? Yes, I was worried firstly by the switch from Ruby Walsh to Daryl Jacob following Ruby’s great ride in the International Hurdle, and initially thought it was due to using his stamina and forcing it a long way from home, but I think if you look back at the Kingwell a few little alarm bells should start to ring. Never travelling, sluggish, hanging across the straight with Jacob having the whip in the correct hand. My hope in him being a Champion Hurdle winner diminishes following every replay. However, his sluggish and lazy style of racing means one thing, Jacob will surely be sitting just off the pace and look to be winding it up as they approach two out, that is where the race begins in earnest, and will begin to unfold.
Given the cloud the Nicholls yard was under last year, Zarkandar dug deep in the Betfair when his trainer admitted he was running on the back of a rushed preparation. In the Champion Hurdle last season he was a running on fifth when a sick horse. I’m not a horse shrink, hell I can’t even read people right, but that wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience. Yes this year he came out all guns blazing early on, grounding out a win off top weight in the Elite, then beating Grandouet and Rock On Ruby in the International, but that Kingwell run looked to hurt and his run in the Champion confirmed it. Daryl Jacob was kidding him throughout the race rather than trying to use his stamina, he came to the last when Daryl first drew the whip and from then on in he was running on the spot where you’d expect a stayer to rally and close on the principles. Have we seen the best of him, well he’s certainly seen the “dark side”. But before the Champion, we were due to see the second coming that was Simonsig. Today we had the “black aeroplane” and we were all expecting to see the anointment of the “grey aeroplane”, what we saw was a fizzed up cotton ball. He was keen throughout, just as he has been previously, running on the back of an interrupted preparation. They are the mitigating circumstances. He lacked fluency, he lacked composure and in the final stages he lacked backbone. His first crack of the whip was as they approached the last, and he ran down the subsequent fence, following the second crack he was shirking it. Green? More Dark Green. Today Sprinter Sacre had a match race with Sizing Europe from the top of the hill; Tuesday Simonsig had a match race with Baily Green. One was genius, the suggestion of two is madness.