Tuesday 17 May 2022

Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson: “It's getting a bit ridiculous, really.”

Nicholas John ‘Nicky’ Henderson is the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 51 victories, including the Champion Hurdle (three times), the World Hurdle (twice) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having ridden 75 winners as an amateur jockey, Henderson began his training career as assistant to the legendary Fred Winter at Uplands, Lambourn in 1974, before taking out a training licence at nearby Windsor House four years later.

Henderson recorded his first win at the Cheltenham Festival in 1985, when the fragile See You Then powered clear on the run-in to win the Champion Hurdle. See You Then was to win the Champion Hurdle again in 1986, and in 1987, joining Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken and Persian War as the fourth horse to win the race three years running. Following a move to Seven Barrows, just north of Lambourn, in 1992, Henderson has continued to churn out Cheltenham Festival winners year after year.

Now 63, he has won all eleven of the Grade 1 races staged over the four days and has won the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award no fewer than nine times. On the second day of the Cheltenham Festival in 2012 he saddled four winners, Finian’s Rainbow in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Simonsig in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase and Une Artiste in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at cumulative odds of 3,381/1. A record seven winners, in total, that year took him clear of another National Hunt legend, Fulke Winner, as the most successful trainer of all time at the Cheltenham Festival.

The following year, he sent out another four Cheltenham Festival winners and, although just denied by Willie Mullins in his quest for his tenth Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award, he had the satisfaction of becoming the first trainer to saddle 50 winners at the Festival, courtesy of Bobs Worth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Prior to the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, Henderson acknowledged that his team was weakened by the absence of Sprinter Sacre, whom he described as ‘missing 10%’ after being pulled up at Kempton over Christmas amid fears of an irregular heartbeat, Simonsig, out for the season after developing a splint on his near fore, and Long Run, who ran in the Grand National instead. Nevertheless, he still saddled a total of fifteen runners who came home in the first six, including Whisper, the winner of the hugely competitive Coral Cup on the second day.

Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run may not be quite the force of old but, no doubt Nicky Henderson will be doing everything in his power to make sure that Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig are 100% for their return next season. Established stars, such as Bobs Worth, My Tent Or Yours and Whisper, to name but a few, should ensure that Henderson remains a force to be reckoned with at the Cheltenham Festival but, as ever, he’s unlikely to rush them or any of his other horses. His patient training methods mean that many of his charges peak late in the season, in March or April, which is definitely a contributory factor in his success at the Cheltenham Festival.

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