If Nicky Henderson had one thing he would do differently were the SBK Clarence House Chase to be run again, it would be to watch it out on the track.
The Seven Barrows trainer felt he might have missed out on the electric atmosphere produced by the Ascot crowd on Saturday as Shishkin and Energumene served up one of the most exciting races in decades.
By having his eyes on a television inside the grandstand, he could not quite appreciate what the battle meant to enthralled racegoers glued to the spectacle.
“There were moments when I thought we were in trouble and then luckily they didn’t last,” he said.
“I actually rather regret it. I watched it on a television inside the grandstand and probably lost a little bit of the atmosphere because everybody said it was incredible – the noise, the crowd – and I was actually inside, rather than outside, which was a shame because I probably missed what was the best part of it.
“The best part was the race itself. It had its moments. You’ve got to say, turning in and going to the second-last, we looked in quite a lot of trouble. Halfway to the last Nico (de Noinville) said he picked up and he thought he’d get him. I was glad he was confident, because I was not that confident until halfway up the run-in when you could see the gap was closing quick enough.
“But they had gone very hard, because they were going very hard all the way. The only sad part of the race was there had to be a loser. I was obviously glad it wasn’t us, but Willie (Mullins) is a great mate. We have one thing in common – we are the only two trainers with a trilby on our heads.”
Henderson is now focusing on the rematch in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He said: “The great thing was that one of them didn’t win by 10 lengths, which would actually take the gloss off the Champion Chase. It is just a rematch. There is nothing in it. It is a different track, it is another way round and there are all sorts of conundrums that come into it.
“We have both got to get there and I think, as we have said it time and again, that’s the most crucial thing. Anything can go wrong, even at the last minute.
“Shishkin corrects himself left-handed, so if he is going to do anything, he is going to go left. It didn’t make any difference. That was my only concern before the race yesterday. We have seen quite a lot of horses coming up that hill at Ascot go quite violently left-handed and that was the one thing.
“Nico was so good on him. He had him in his hands the whole way. It was hard work, hard-work ground. They were brave horses.
“He was 523 to 509 kilos from Kempton to Ascot. That is why I was more relaxed than people imagined. Everything had gone right. We had our prep race, his work had been great, Nico had given him one gallop the previous Saturday and said he felt wonderful.
“He jumped five fences on Thursday and he was brilliant. I could not have had him any better than we had him yesterday.”
Before Shishkin and Energumene faced off, Henderson had all eyes on Haydock, where Jonbon had his latest assignment.
Douvan’s full-brother was not quite as spectacular as he has been, but in beating Richmond Lake by three lengths in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle he maintained his unbeaten record and stayed on track for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson was in fact particularly pleased with what he saw from Aidan Coleman’s mount.
“Jonbon was good. It was a fantastic run – it is a good horse who can quicken twice and that is what he did,” he said.
“He quickened from three out to two out, and then he quickened after the last. That was all he needed. That was was just what he needed and Aidan said he was very happy with him.
“They are both great this morning and we couldn’t be happier with them. I felt, from Jonbon’s point of view, it was a great run at Haydock on ground that did not look to be ideal.”