Nicky Henderson probably doesn’t look at the Geegeez site, but if he did, his comments yesterday could be seen as an answer to the question posed by Matt on Monday. The champion trainer acknowledged that his stable has not performed as well as last year, and offered two particular reasons for that.
First, he said that many horses were not as sharp as he likes to have them on their first run, and consequently fewer were winning first time out. “It’s fair to say Some of the horses look as if they’re needing the run a bit more than we’d expect them to. You just want to get these horses right and firing. They’re running well but are just not all winning.”
He thought that was about to change, adding, “They’re not doing anything dramatically wrong, it just looks as if another couple of weeks might put them dramatically right. They look very well but we just seem to be a little bit behind.”
That he can do something about, but the second part of his explanation is completely out of his hands. Henderson bemoaned a shortage of opportunities for his top novice chasers, which he claimed could force him to run some of them against each other.
Oscar Whisky and Grandouet are a case in point. Both have had one race so far and both have been beaten. Whilst Oscar Whisky was just held off by Jonjo O’Neill’s Taquin Du Seuil at Cheltenham, his stablemate jumped poorly at Sandown before unseating Barry Geraghty at the last fence.
He says he’d like to find a couple of little races for each of them, but they are just not there in the racing programme. The authorities, he claims, are not bothered. “You ask them what we can do and they say ‘Take each other on’ – i.e. me run Oscar Whisky against my own horses. Amazing, it’s just daft.”
The difficulty is that most novice chases are handicaps restricted to horses rated 0-140 by the British Horseracing Authority, and he has half a dozen or so who were rated over 150 as hurdlers. The solution Henderson has come up with this year is to keep some of his potential novice chasers running over hurdles, but as he pointed out, long term that can only do damage to the chasing programme, and is the sort of thinking that led to only three horses declared for the Amlin Chase recently (and that was reduced to two when Captain Chris was a non-runner).
As for Grandouet, it looks like he is heading back to Sandown in ten days time. The trainer would rather not go there, but says he has no choice. “Grandouet desperately needs a confidence booster but there’s only one race for him between now and Christmas – the Henry VIII. The only race he can run in between now and Christmas! Is that really where I want to go back to? Of course it isn’t, but it’s where he has to go.” Henderson fears another bad experience at Sandown could ruin Grandouet, so let’s hope that a bit more schooling has improved his jumping and there are no problems this time round.
I do think Henderson is prone to overstatement from time to time, and perhaps there’s an element of that here. Over the past year the BHA has been trying to improve the structure of the novice chase programme, and full marks to them for that. In the mind of Nicky Henderson there’s more to do.