Brilliant Jonbon delivers perfect boost on testing day for Henderson

Racing has a habit of being a bittersweet experience.

Nicky Henderson has been around long enough to know that for every soaring high, there will be an excruciating, crashing low. It is what has kept him grounded in his 43 years as a trainer.

It is fair to argue that the master of Seven Barrows has not had much luck recently.

Unbeaten runaway Arkle winner Shishkin was due to make his return in the Tingle Creek, but the 71-year-old was not happy with him.

He was accused in some quarters of ducking a clash with Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi in the Sandown Grade One.

“It didn’t hurt me, but it just annoys me that people write and say things who know nothing about racing. They wouldn’t know what a horse looked like,” said Henderson.

“We are doing our best. Everybody likes to have a view these days, but you have to do what is best for the horse – that’s all that matters.”

And on Friday, news broke that leading Stayers’ Hurdle hope Buzz had suffered a suspected fractured pelvis on the eve of the Long Walk Hurdle.

“Things like this morning show you that this is no cushy life – it is brutal,” said Henderson.

“The lows are excruciating. That’s what really hurts – things like this morning.

“You have got a horse like that who everybody was looking forward to seeing tomorrow and it was going to be a big day in that horse’s life and we really were looking forward to it.

“For the owners and everybody, it is cruel. Buzz had had a fantastic prep, his work has been fantastic. It would kill you.

“You have to say for the owners (Thurloe Thoroughbreds), for Reggie (Pallas) – who looks after him and rides him every day – they had to suffer through that with the horse this morning. That is cruelty to a human, the horse has an injury like you and I breaking a leg or an arm or something.

“But he will come through, we hope. But to the rest of us, it was a hammer blow. It was just cruel.”

Henderson must have thought the racing gods were against him, as he saw two promising young horses narrowly beaten in the first two hurdle races on the card. Both finished as staying-on runners-up.

And so he must have feared the worst when Jonbon lined up Howden Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, undoubtedly the best novice hurdle in Britain by miles this season.

Jonbon is a fine physical specimen
Jonbon is a fine physical specimen (Steven Paston/PA)

The JP McManus-owned five-year-old had stepped forward from his easy bumper win to make a flawless first start over hurdles at Newbury last month.

And when the quintet set off at a crawl up to the first and over it, you could be forgiven for thinking Henderson would have had his heart in his mouth and his head in his hands.

Yet racing is an odd game. It can bring forth a rollercoaster of emotions. Aidan Coleman provided the calm head, taking matters into his own hands, and Jonbon provided a soothing balm.

Coleman sat still, eased to the front and the mighty engine inside Jonbon’s chest merely ticked over. He barely came out of second gear and led four high-quality rivals a merry dance off a pedestrian pace.

He wound up the gallop, eased through the gears and had them all at it turning in. Without empirical evidence, the mid-race fractions from Jonbon must be eyewatering.

Jockey Aidan Coleman tells Nicky Henderson (right) how easy everything was
Jockey Aidan Coleman tells Nicky Henderson (right) how easy everything was (Steve Paston/PA)

Having duly answered every bell and barely coming off the bridle in this much tougher Grade Two assignment, Henderson tried his best to hide the stream of emotion that had welled up throughout the day.

The tears flowed as Jonbon took his tally to three unbeaten under rules since going under the hammer for £570,000.

“That just shows you what it is all about,” said Henderson, wiping away the tears.

“Jonbon would be better with a gallop, of course he will – and he can be keen.

“He must have set some fractions somewhere, because turning into the straight, he has got four good horses off the bridle and he hasn’t done anything.

“You thought they would be sat together and we would have a mad dash, but you look behind them turning in, and they are all at it.

“You saw when they took the ear plugs out afterwards, he heard the noise and suddenly came alive in the winner’s enclosure. Some talent, though!

“Jonbon did one bit of work last week and it was a very good gallop and that is all I have needed to do since Newbury.

“He’s had just one gallop and ticked over. We have got to decide the route (to Cheltenham) now. I suspect he will have one more run, but I would be surprised if it was two.

Buzz (left) suffered a suspected fractured pelvis on Friday morning
Buzz (left) suffered a suspected fractured pelvis on Friday morning (Nigel French/PA)

“This was always going to be a big weekend and it revolved around Jonbon and Buzz and all the others, including Champ.

“But Buzz and Jonbon were the two really big tests, because if they came through they are going to head to Cheltenham virtually as favourites.”

Yet while “astounded by that performance”, Henderson’s mind was not far from Buzz and the team who look after him.

Henderson added: “Buzz is comfortable and as well as he can be. It is horrible and just so cruel. Tomorrow was going to be such a big day for him and if he had come through it, we were all pretending we were nervous…

“I’ve been going a long time and if you don’t get hardened to it…but you never do. You feel it. It is not possible not to feel it.

“The next 48 hours it is fingers crossed and if he gets through that, there is every chance he will race again.”

Jonbon’s success will at least take away some of that bitter taste from that bitter pill all at Seven Barrows swallowed. And how they needed that.

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