Christmas highs and lows for Henderson

Sprinter Sacre - could run again this season

Sprinter Sacre - could run again this season

There are times when racing has a remarkable resemblance to the Budget, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives with one hand and then takes away with the other. It probably feels a bit like that at the moment at the seven Barrows stable where Nicky Henderson trains.

Last Friday saw the return to racing of Sprinter Sacre, by far the best two-mile chaser around. It was a delayed return, and a short lived one. All looked to be going well until Barry Geraghty pulled the horse up immediately after the seventh fence in Kempton’s williamhill.com Desert Orchid Chase. Geraghty remained in the saddle as the pair came back to the enclosures.

Henderson explained afterwards what had happened. “The vets listened to him when he pulled him up and when he came back in, and there is an irregular heartbeat there. He landed on the back of the fence and Barry said he was empty. He was looking great, he jumped the first very well and his work was unbelievable.”

After a night at home, Sprinter Sacre went off to Newmarket, where Celia Marr, a specialist in equine cardiology examined the horse, and confirmed the racecourse vet’s diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. That’s clearly a serious matter, but the trainer offered hope to all racing fans when he said it was premature to think that Sprinter Sacre would not race again.

The same problem affected Denman, and he returned to further success, so there are good grounds for optimism. Yesterday Henderson was in Ireland, from where he issued a much more encouraging bulletin, which said that the problem had righted itself, and Sprinter Sacre would not require any medical intervention, something which would have ruled him out for the rest of the season.

He went on, “Because his heart self-righted so quickly, the onset of the problem must be quite recent and Celia said he is unlikely to have had it as a long-term condition. We wouldn’t think of going for the Clarence House Chase (at Ascot next month) but if we can train him for March, fantastic. On Friday night he looked out all but out of the game but all of a sudden the world is a slighter brighter place.”

We’ll know more by the end of the week, after Marr has tested the horse again with an ECG during light exercise, but Henderson had Sprinter down as a 4/6 chance to run at the Cheltenham Festival.

Bobs Worth - Gold Cup favourite

Bobs Worth - Gold Cup favourite

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Barely 24 hours after the scare with Sprinter Sacre, the horses came good for the Seven Barrows team, with four of them calling in at the winner’s enclosure on Saturday. Henderson had travelled to Ireland to supervise Bobs Worth as he attempted to improve on a disappointing seasonal reappearance in which he finished almost 40 lengths behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase.

He did so in style in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase. Despite a couple of minor jumping errors Bobs Worth beat the cream of Irish staying chasers including Sir Des champs and First Lieutenant to give British based trainers a seventh success in the race in the last eight years. The trainer said afterwards he had nearly not run Bobs Worth, but Barry Geraghty had persuaded him it was the right thing to do. Henderson said, “I would have given anything to take him out two days ago. With the ground and the weather, I wasn't that happy with him, but the horse never stops surprising you. You have to be handier round here than you would normally be. When I saw Barry angle him out, I said to myself obviously he thinks he'll get there. We all know he finishes his races, except of course for Haydock. It's only five or six weeks since he got thumped into the ground there so to come back from that is great.”

The performance was enough for bookmakers to promote him back to favourite to retain the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. We won’t see him out until then.

Captain Cutter - one for the future

Captain Cutter - one for the future

While Henderson was busy at Leopardstown, his assistant Patrick Harty was supervising events at Newbury, where the yard ran up a treble, highlighted by the win of Captain Cutter in the Challow Hurdle. Harty said, “He seemed to jump better going left-handed and AP (McCoy) thought that also. The heavy ground suited him and he stayed on well all the way to the line. He will get three miles, so we'll have to see come Cheltenham time if he's good enough to be an Albert Bartlett horse.”

If the evidence of previous winners is anything to go by, that’s unlikely. Although such fine horses as Bindaree, Denman, Diamond Harry and Wichita Lineman all won the Challow Hurdle, they were all horses that went on to greater success over fences. Only dual Long Walk Hurdle winner Reve De Sivola has progressed into a top class hurdler.

Whether Captain Cutter achieves anything like his predecessors we’ll only find out in years to come. For now, though, it’s a quiet day down at Seven Barrows, with no runners, but relief that Sprinter Sacre is not as seriously ill as he might have been, and that Bobs Worth has shown he is as good as he was last year. Perhaps those are the best Christmas gifts the champion trainer could wish for.

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