Tag Archive for: Nicky Henderson

Henderson remembers ‘beautiful’ Shishkin following fatal injury

Nicky Henderson has paid an emotional tribute to Shishkin after his untimely death due to an injury incurred in his stable.

The gelding’s star started to rise during his hurdling career, which peaked with a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victory at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020.

He was then an instant success as a chaser, collecting seven consecutive wins, including the Arkle, the Maghull and the Desert Orchid Chase, as well as a memorable Clarence House win following a duel up the Ascot straight with Energumene.

That winning streak, which ran to 10 races if his late hurdles form is included, came to an end eventually but the gelding still continued to show flashes of complete brilliance.

He won the Ascot Chase by 16 lengths last year and the Bowl at Aintree when stepping up in trip, and despite refusing to race on his return to the former track for the 1965 Chase, he then looked the likely winner of the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day before stumbling with the race at his mercy.

Shishkin and Nicky Henderson after success in the Betfair Ascot Chase
Shishkin and Nicky Henderson after success in the Betfair Ascot Chase (Steven Paston/PA)

His final success came in the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, after which his Cheltenham Gold Cup bid was scuppered by a poor scope and he chased home Gerri Colombe to finish fourth at Aintree earlier this month.

Shishkin was due to run in Wednesday’s Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup, but fractured a hind leg after being cast in his box on Sunday and could not be saved.

“It was horrendous to be honest with you, he just didn’t deserve that,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“There was nothing we could do. We had an army of vets and the best people in the world but they couldn’t repair it, I’m afraid.

“It’s just tragic, but everyone has been quite remarkable and you just have to appreciate how popular a horse can become.”

Shishkin and Henderson at Seven Barrows
Shishkin and Henderson at Seven Barrows (Tim Goode/PA)

Henderson nominated his 12-length Arkle victory as a particular highlight, but rated his epic battle with Energumene as the peak of Shishkin’s career.

He said: “He won six Grade Ones, it should have been seven, as he should have won the King George really and I believe he would have done.

“One of his greatest days was when he won the Arkle at Cheltenham, he was brilliant, but that match with Energumene at Ascot in the Clarence House was probably his greatest race, because he had to fight very hard that day.

“We were all set for Cheltenham and he couldn’t go there, we were just really looking forward to Punchestown and he was due to leave this morning.

“He was a beautiful horse, earlier in the season we sent him off to Zara Tindall to do some dressage to keep him amused and they adored him over there too – he could have done anything.

“He was lovely, he was a very gentle person too – he was very kind.”

Racing saddened by death of ‘warrior’ Shishkin

Nicky Henderson has reported the tragic news that his popular stable star Shishkin has died due to an injury suffered at Seven Barrows.

The 10-year-old was due to contest the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday.

Shishkin won 14 of his 21 races, including Cheltenham Festival victories in the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the following season’s Arkle.

Among his other Grade One triumphs was a memorable defeat of Energumene in the 2022 Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

This season had been a rollercoaster ride of emotions for his connections, with Shishkin refusing to start at Ascot before parting company with Nico de Boinville two out in the King George when leading.

He secured what was to be his final success when winning the Denman Chase at Newbury in February, before finishing fourth on his last outing in the Aintree Bowl.

Henderson issued a statement on X saying: “Tragically we have lost Shishkin this evening after he got cast in his stable and fractured his hind leg.

Nicky Henderson Stable Visit – Seven Barrows
Trainer Nicky Henderson with Shishkin (David Davies/PA).

“Everyone involved with Seven Barrows, particularly his owners, Joe and Marie Donnelly, Jaydon, Nico and George are obviously devastated that such a great horse, friend and warrior has gone.

“He was due to leave for Punchestown tomorrow morning but sadly this is now not to be.

“He was an absolute superstar and his CV is testament to that – except the King George is not in it, even though we believe it should have been.

“The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle were his Cheltenham highlights, but the battle with Energumene in the Clarence House at Ascot was probably his greatest.

“This is a very sad night. He was our star and we will never forget him. Thank you Shishkin for the wonderful memories.”

Fantastic performance seals Oaksey honours for Lady

Fantastic Lady put up a smooth display to land the bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown.

Third in the race 12 months ago to Hewick, she was having only her fourth outing of the campaign after running well for a long way in the Topham Chase at Aintree over the Grand National fences and having also gone close in the Grand Sefton back in November.

Her trainer Nicky Henderson has endured a pretty miserable spring, but with the team now back firing on all cylinders, he has ended the season strongly and having been dropped out at the rear by Nico de Boinville, Fantastic Lady moved stealthily into contention at the Pond Fence.

A mistake there by The Real Whacker cost him any chance and with Hitman finding little under pressure, she only had Ga Law to beat, which she did by two and a half lengths.

“She is remarkable and we kept her all season for the Topham,” said Henderson.

“She was second in the Topham last year and then came here and was third in this last year and I thought we haven’t got anything else to do, so let’s have a look at it.

“She was really good and Nico said ‘it’s lucky you don’t tie me down (to instruction)’ as the plan was to get up there and go and when it was all happening up front, Nico said he decided to do the complete opposite. Well done to Nico, fair play it was a great piece of riding.”

Fantastic Lady came from last to first under Nico de Boinville
Fantastic Lady came from last to first under Nico de Boinville (John Walton/PA)

He went on: “It was great from her to come back so quickly from Aintree, she jumped round there again and finished sixth. She’s a lovely mare and looks great and I was fearing she would be in foal this season, but it looks like she is going to have to play on.

“She jumps like nothing on earth and if you know the farm she has come from, she will have jumped a thousand fences before she came to Seven Barrows.

“Aintree was always our aim. At one stage we were thinking about the Grand National but she wasn’t going to get in – maybe the handicapper will have something to say about it after that and she will get in.”

Jonbon makes all for Celebration success

Jonbon emerged a convincing victor in his long-awaited clash with El Fabiolo in the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown.

The pair had initially been due to meet in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot back in January only to be scuppered by the weather, while a possible Queen Mother Champion Chase face-off did not happen as Jonbon was ruled out by trainer Nicky Henderson during a tough period when his stable was under a cloud.

However, the Seven Barrows team has been resurgent in recent weeks with Jonbon quickly back in action after a hard-fought win when stepped up to two and a half miles in the Melling Chase at Aintree earlier this month.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Nico de Boinville, Jonbon (15-8) was to the fore from the off, putting in some extravagant leaps and turning for home firmly in command.

He fairly flew up the straight, clearing the last with a good advantage and galloped home four lengths in front of the 4-6 favourite El Fabiolo, who made a couple of jumping errors as he failed to atone for a costly mistake at Cheltenham that had seen him pulled up in the Champion Chase.

Henderson said: “I said to Nico after to Fantastic Lady (who came from last to first in the Oaksey Chase), ‘don’t do that in the next’ as that was meant to make the running and he ended up at the back. He knows he has my full trust but I can’t believe he was ever going to drop this lad out and he didn’t.

“We knew a week ago whatever happens we were going to have to go out and drum this race and make it a proper test. We had to test the stamina because we stay two and a half and we had to test everyone’s jumping.

“He’s not flawless as we saw at Cheltenham (when second in the rescheduled Clarence House) but he’s brave and two brave people went out there today and thank goodness they’re all in one piece and we start again next year.

“It was just a shame he couldn’t be at Cheltenham because once El Fabiolo had popped out of the race, then it looked winnable from Jonbon’s point of view. He would have to have jumped round himself but he couldn’t because he wasn’t there.

Nico de Boinville salutes the Sandown crowd
Nico de Boinville salutes the Sandown crowd (John Walton/PA)

“I think he’s regained his place in the pecking order of two-mile chasers. He gets from A to B very quickly.

“He’s flown the flag all year and it was a brave horse to do that today and a brave jockey as well to be fair, as he had to ask him questions.”

Henderson and owner JP McManus will now consider future plans over the summer, with options over a variety of distances on the table.

The trainer added: “I was always thinking the Ascot Chase might be the place to start him next season, but Nico’s now talking about three whereas at Aintree he was saying go back to two! I don’t know what he’s thinking but it doesn’t matter. We’ve got all summer and we can’t ask the horse. We’ve just got to decide ourselves where is his optimum.

“Dusting it up like that and making it a proper test of jumping and galloping is pretty damn good.”

Jonbon set for Sandown defence or Punchestown

Jonbon could defend his Celebration Chase title or head to the Punchestown Festival before the season ends, after forming one half of a Grade One double for Nicky Henderson at Aintree’s Grand National Festival.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old was one of a number of big names from Seven Barrows to miss the Cheltenham Festival, with Henderson effectively shutting down operations as a poor run of form hit his Lambourn-based string.

However, he proved his class alongside hot juvenile prospect Sir Gino, as the Henderson team bounced back to form on Merseyside, their time in the doldrums proving short lived.

The Joe and Marie Donnelly-owned Sir Gino is finished for the season after claiming the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, but there could be further business for Jonbon to take care of, either at Sandown on the final day of the season or on a raiding mission to Ireland.

Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon
Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“Sir Gino, that will be him done, but there is every chance Jonbon could go again and we will have a look at the Celebration Chase or Punchestown,” said Henderson.

“If you wait for Punchestown, you get an extra four days, which might be a help, but I think both of mine, because they hadn’t been to Cheltenham, they probably had a bit of an advantage here.

“There is room to go again with Jonbon and we will see who is going where and what.

“He did it last year in his novice chase season – he went to Sandown for the Celebration and has done the double act before. He probably had an easier race in the novice chase last year than he did on Friday but it was just a very good race.”

It was Jonbon’s first attempt at two and a half miles when successful in the Melling Chase, but he will be dropping back to two miles if he is to be seen again this spring.

However, Henderson is envisaging a return to further after that possible assignment, with plenty to be discussed with owner McManus before the autumn.

“He would have to come back to two miles because there isn’t anything for him over further and then we will have to sit down and think,” he continued.

“I was saying before the race I was sure he would get the two and a half and wouldn’t be surprised if we were soon talking about three (miles).

“Nico (de Boinville) wasn’t that convinced about the three, but we will see and I haven’t discussed it with JP yet – he’s got plenty on his mind at present counting up all his Grade One winners.”

Shishkin in action at Aintree
Shishkin in action at Aintree (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Jonbon is not the only Seven Barrows inmate in line for a trip to the Punchestown Festival, with Shishkin on course for a long-awaited clash with dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old could only finish fourth in defence of his Bowl title at Aintree, but Henderson feels the set-up of the Kildare track would suit his multiple Grade One winner much better than Liverpool.

“I would like Shishkin to go to Punchestown and I think he would be ready for it,” added Henderson.

“I think the track would suit him a little bit more than Aintree and he just didn’t look quite sharp enough round there.

“He couldn’t just get out of pockets and holes at the right moment. Tactically, it was a tough race and he just lacked that little bit of zip, so we might zip him up a little bit for Punchestown.”

Henderson just delighted to see old friends grab National glory

He could have been forgiven for thinking ‘what if’ when former pupil I Am Maximus sauntered his way to Randox Grand National glory – but Nicky Henderson was simply thrilled for all concerned and three days at Aintree he feels the sport can look back on with pride.

It still seems remarkable Henderson has not trained a National winner during what continues to be a hugely distinguished career, and it is perhaps indicative of his luck in the world’s most famous steeplechase that I Am Maximus was housed at his Lambourn base before switching to Willie Mullins in Ireland.

The future National hero won both a Cheltenham bumper and a Newbury novice hurdle while in the care of Henderson, who admits he was the one runner he was keeping a close eye on during Saturday’s main event.

I Am Maximus won a bumper at Cheltenham when trained by Nicky Henderson
I Am Maximus won a bumper at Cheltenham when trained by Nicky Henderson (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I’ve let one slip through the net,” quipped Henderson. “It’s ironic, you spend 45 years trying to win the Grand National and you finally get your mitts on one and we let it get away.

“He was here and spent his first two seasons here – he was a lovely horse – and he was the one horse I wanted to win yesterday.

“I suppose the only thing I might have done to contribute to his success was probably the way we minded him quite a bit when he was young, because he was big and backwards and raw.

“He was a lovely horse with a great temperament, but he wasn’t really ready for big battles in those days and just needed to be treated with respect – and I think that’s what we did.”

He was owned at the time by Michael Grech, who was to switch all his horses to Ireland in the summer of 2022, with I Am Maximus joining Mullins’ swelling Closutton ranks to embark on a novice chasing campaign which culminated in Irish Grand National success in April 2023.

Grech sold I Am Maximus to JP McManus before that Fairyhouse triumph and sadly did not get to see his former charge’s finest hour at Aintree, having died in September last year. But Henderson believes the horse’s big-race victory will be a lasting tribute to his good friend.

He continued: “I’m thrilled, he belongs to JP, who is one of my biggest supporters here and Willie is a great mate – I told him he needed to go get that horse. I’m genuinely thrilled for them.

“Sadly, he had to move on (from ourselves) and Michael Grech was lovely, we had some tremendous days together and it was great fun. The horses then had to go over to Ireland and sadly Michael died and it’s very sad because he was a lovely man.

“All his family were there yesterday, Maxine (his wife) and his children and it was a sad day for them, but he won in Mike’s memory.”

Nicky Henderson was in good form at Aintree
Nicky Henderson was in good form at Aintree (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Henderson did not have a runner in this year’s National, but was keen to heap praise on officials at Aintree for not just the successful alterations they made to the race itself, but for the three days in Liverpool overall.

The 73-year-old roared back to form himself on Merseyside after a testing Cheltenham Festival, with star performers Sir Gino and Jonbon both scooping Grade One honours.

He described the action on Merseyside as the “best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere”, with racing deserving of a massive pat on the back after a thrilling three days of action in the north west.

“I thought it was a fantastic race and it was a brilliant three days, you won’t see better racing anywhere,” said Henderson.

“Aintree need huge credit for it and after Cheltenham everyone was so down and out, it was all so gloomy and everything was wrong, so after all that, we need to say this was brilliant.

“I wasn’t going round Cheltenham doom and gloom because I couldn’t play, but I was back playing the game again this week which was good fun and the horses ran well throughout the week.

“It was a fabulous Grand National, with lots of horses getting round and everyone safe and sound, which is always a paramount – and I just thought it was the best three days racing you could wish to see anywhere and it wants to be celebrated and paraded and everyone saying well done to everyone.

“The sport did very well for three days and I know we are all under the cosh at Cheltenham and under pressure and maybe things get a bit heated or overtried, but up at Aintree everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy it and they did – and I thought it was first class all the way through.”

Melling Chase distance proves just the ticket for Jonbon

Jonbon took the step up in trip in his stride as he roared back to his best with a brave success in the My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old has been campaigned solely at two miles so far over fences and won both the Shloer Chase and Tingle Creek in the early stages of this campaign.

However, a narrow reverse in the rearranged Clarence House was followed by missing the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as Henderson effectively shut down his operation on account of the poor stable form.

Nico de Boinville with Jonbon
Nico de Boinville with Jonbon (PA)

Trying two and a half miles for the first time, Jonbon (11-10 favourite) travelled supremely in the hands of Nico de Boinville, with Jack Kennedy keen to make this a stiff stamina test sending Conflated to the lead where he was closely shadowed by Pic D’Orhy and Minella Drama.

Jonbon and Protektorat were always hot on that trio’s tail and as Kennedy continued to pour on the coal aboard Conflated down towards two out, Jonbon loomed menacingly with Protektorat staying on strongly.

Nico de Boinville edged the JP McManus-owned Jonbon to a narrow advantage jumping the last and the Seven Barrows star pulled out all the stops as he kept on right to the line to hold off the game Conflated, with Protektorat back in third after a thrilling conclusion to the Grade One event.

Henderson said: “I don’t know why, but everybody loves him, I know JP does as well.

“He dug very deep today didn’t he? And he had to. His jumping was very slick and it was a great ride – you saw him at his best today.

“All the guys at home do a great job as if you change the routine, you could upset this fella very, very easily. I think we’ve got the hang of him now, we’re learning!

“I always wondered whether we should have been thinking about the Ryanair this year and when we stepped Shishkin up to two and a half we soon realised he actually wanted three. I’m not saying that about Jonbon at the moment as Nico thought that trip was perfect for him around here.

“I think the two and a half is probably ideal, although I’m trying to get Nico to say he’ll stay three. But we can think about those things during the summer.”

“He is a flagship horse. He’s been there a long time now, you can go back to when he was battling El Fabiolo here in a novice hurdle here two years ago – he’s been at the top for a fair old while.

“He’s just been a star all the way through and we love him, I hope he loves us!”

On the stable’s return to form, he added: “This horse was one of the special ones, obviously. I think we’re getting through it quite nicely now, that was great with Sir Gino yesterday and they’re all running well.

“This horse is a bit special, he’s been at the top of his game for a few years now and has never missed a beat. We can enjoy this one.

“We’ll never know whether missing Cheltenham has helped us with the horses coming here, you could say it’s possibly in our favour. The other horses have been to Prestbury Park and we were sadly stuck in our box at home with all of them.”

Jonbon was too good for Conflated (right)
Jonbon was too good for Conflated (right) (David Davies/Jockey Club)

De Boinville said: “I’m delighted with that, very happy. He showed what a true champion he is, he’s very versatile as you can ride him how you want and he seems to get most trips.

“It was an end-to-end gallop and everyone turned up who needed to. It was a true championship race, there was no hiding place out there.

“I had no doubts about the trip particularly, I thought he might relish it. He had to fight in the end and he was very strong in the finish.

“I thought he jumped great and travelled well and finished out well against other good horses.

“We’ve got the whole summer to think about what we do with him next season.”

Jonbon has been the mount of Aidan Coleman in recent seasons but De Boinville stepped in after Coleman sustained what proved to be a career-ending knee injury last June.

He added: “I’d like to give a special mention to Aidan because it would have been his ride this season, I wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Nicky Henderson after winning the Melling Chase
Nicky Henderson after winning the Melling Chase (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Finishing second in a Grade One for the second time on the day, Elliott said: “I’m delighted with the run, but gutted he didn’t win. The horse gave it everything but we’ve no excuses, he was beaten by a better horse on the day. It’s always disappointing when you are second but when they do nothing wrong you have to be happy.

“I think he’s probably run a career-best to be honest, he’s a great horse. The winner wasn’t at Cheltenham so was a fresh horse and I’m delighted for Nicky because he’s a great man.”

Dan Skelton said of third home Protektorat: “Harry (Skelton) will get off and say his jumping could have been a bit slicker, but around this track I wouldn’t think that is far off a career-best. They went very hard the whole way.

“I know we beat Conflated at Cheltenham, but the complexion of that race was as good as I’ve seen to be honest. I’m very proud of him and proud of how he has kept himself together for a whole season.

“This has shown the Ryaniar wasn’t just his day and I’m looking forward to next year more than I was this year.”

Henderson back in business as Sir Gino strikes at Aintree

Relief was the overriding emotion for Nicky Henderson after Sir Gino got the Seven Barrows handler back in the big-race winner’s enclosure with victory in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

The trainer endured a torrid time at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, with the disappointing performances of several horses leading him to withdraw a number of others, unbeaten juvenile Sir Gino being one.

The Triumph Hurdle absentee proved his worth on Merseyside, though, tracking the Cheltenham runner-up Kargese into the home straight in the hands of Nico de Boinville.

The 11-10 favourite was far from foot perfect at the next couple of obstacles, but picked up well after a good leap at the final flight to prevail by three and a quarter lengths.

Henderson said: “We knew what we were walking into and while it is a relief, one swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say.

“He galloped right through the line in what was a messy race, it was awfully stop-start. His jumping was untidy up the straight but you could see from the speed on the screen, it got slowed up dramatically, the second was pulling hard as well but he’s done what he had to do.

“He is a very good horse but he’s got a long way to go. He is in Punchestown but that was in case of protestors or bomb scares or something stupid, but I wouldn’t have thought that was high on the agenda.

“I always had the feeling he was going to pick up the second but you could get a tidier race than that.

“He’ll have to stick to hurdles next season but I’m not going to think about that now. I know where one person (Constitution Hill) is going, so we’ll have to see if there’s an alternative route.”

Nicky Henderson at Aintree
Nicky Henderson at Aintree (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

The most high-profile absentee from Henderson’s Cheltenham squad was, of course, last season’s Champion Hurdle hero Constitution Hill, who has since been in hospital after suffering from colic.

Henderson added: “All trainers know what a spell like we’ve had is like, the problem we had was the timing, unfortunately it was more public than was probably necessary because we literally bumped into Cheltenham.

“We were sat at home watching the Triumph Hurdle. At least we’ve got through a little bit but we’ve got to do it all again now, the yard will be relieved though.

“Constitution Hill is fine now, thankfully. I’m not sure if he was watching but he’s a two-mile hurdler and that is what this is, they might get to know each other.”

Kargese (left) chases home Sir Gino
Kargese (left) chases home Sir Gino (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Willie Mullins said of the runner-up Kargese: “It was a very good run, the winner is a tremendous horse and it’s great to see Nicky’s horses back in form. I’m delighted for him and Joe and Marie Donnelly (owners).

“Our filly is probably her own worst enemy, she has to learn to race, as she’s too keen. She will mature I hope and make it easier for Paul (Townend) to ride her.

“She looks a very good filly for next season but I think she’ll go to Punchestown first. It’s only up the road from us and she won’t need any galloping between now and then. We’ll freshen her up and bring her back for Punchestown all being well.”

Sir Gino hands Henderson welcome Aintree boost

Sir Gino preserved his flawless record with a neat victory in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s gelding missed the Cheltenham Festival as the stable was under a cloud and looked to claim his first Grade One in Liverpool instead.

Under Nico de Boinville, he did so with little fuss, winning comfortably as the 11-10 favourite after a good jump at the last.

Henderson said: “We knew what we were walking into and while it is a relief, one swallow doesn’t make a summer as they say.

“He galloped right through the line in what was a messy race, it was awfully stop-start. His jumping was untidy up the straight but you could see from the speed on the screen, it got slowed up dramatically, the second was pulling hard as well but he’s done what he had to do.

“He is a very good horse but he’s got a long way to go. He is in Punchestown but that was in case of protestors or bomb scares or something stupid, but I wouldn’t have thought that was high on the agenda.

“I always had the feeling he was going to pick up the second but you could get a tidier race than that.

“He’ll have to stick to hurdles next season but I’m not going to think about that now. I know where one person (Constitution Hill) is going so we’ll have to see if there’s an alternative route.”

Triumph second Kargese bids for Aintree consolation

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Kargese follows a familiar route for Willie Mullins in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree on Thursday.

The Closutton handler has claimed this Grade One contest twice in the last seven years, with both the sensational 2016 victor Apple’s Jade and last year’s heroine Zenta picking up minor honours in the Triumph Hurdle prior to striking gold on Merseyside.

His latest challenger is a pea out of the same pod having found only stablemate Majborough too strong at Prestbury Park last month – and while Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten Triumph absentee Sir Gino is a major threat, connections of Kargese are quietly confident about her chances.

“If she’s come out of Cheltenham well, which the team at Closutton seem to think she has, she must have every chance,” said Peter Molony, racing manger for owner Kenny Alexander.

“She just needs to learn to settle a little bit. I would upgrade her run big time in the Triumph as she basically fought for her head the whole way round and never really settled. Before the last she looked like she was galloping all over the winner and then she just got tired.

“I know the winner is very good, but I think she definitely would have got closer to him if she had settled better, so if she can settle on Thursday we’d be very hopeful.

“She’s a very nice mare who owes us nothing as she’s had a great year already, but we rate her pretty highly so hopefully she can settle and we’ll have a good run.”

Sir Gino was a notable absentee at the Cheltenham Festival
Sir Gino was a notable absentee at the Cheltenham Festival

Sir Gino looked every inch a top-class prospect after winning his first two starts for Nicky Henderson, particularly when dominating his rivals in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham in late January.

The French import disappointingly missed the Triumph Hurdle itself during what was a difficult week for his trainer, but that does at least mean he will be fresh for his latest assignment.

“It was sad he couldn’t run at Cheltenham because, to be fair, there was nothing wrong with him but by the time we got to the Friday I’d completely lost my bottle altogether,” Henderson told Unibet.

“I didn’t dare run him. I think he’s a very good horse and we’re going to find out sooner or later. He looked very good on Trials day at Cheltenham and his work recently has been up to that standard.

“He’s been round Auteuil so the ground shouldn’t worry him.”

Similar comments apply to the Paul Nicholls-trained Kalif Du Berlais, who is two from two since arriving in Britain and has been saved for Aintree since landing the Adonis at Kempton in February.

“He’s a horse with a big future and maintained his unbeaten record with a determined success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton under a 5lb penalty,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“It was always the plan to miss the Triumph Hurdle and wait for this race at Aintree. We’ve deliberately given him time and although this is a step up in class for him, he seems be improving physically and I think he is in better shape than he was before his last run.”

Joseph O’Brien saddles both Triumph Hurdle fourth Nurburgring and his stablemate Intellotto, who was last seen landing a small-field conditions event at Limerick.

Syd Hosie’s rank outsider and hurdling debutant Dirty Den, down the field in the Champion Bumper last month, completes the field.

Jonbon steps up for Melling Chase challenge

Jonbon steps up to two and a half miles for the first time in Friday’s ultra-competitive My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has won multiple Grade Ones over the minimum trip but connections have been minded to try him over further for some time.

Having missed the Cheltenham Festival due to concerns over the form of his string, Henderson will be hoping for a better display than the one which saw him beaten at 1-4 in the rearranged Clarence House Chase when he made several jumping errors.

Taking him on are this year’s Ryanair winner Protekorat and the 2022 winner of that race Envoi Allen.

Protektorat (right) beat Envoi Allen at Cheltenham
Protektorat (right) beat Envoi Allen at Cheltenham (Adam Davy/PA)

Protekorat had spent a large part of the previous two seasons running over three miles but excelled dropped in trip last month, while Envoi Allen put up a game defence of his title in second.

Paul Nicholls won the race last year with Pic D’Orhy and the nine-year-old is back again searching for a valuable win for his handler in the race to be champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott’s Conflated also runs in this in preference to the Grand National, with Easy Game and Minella Drama completing the field.

Two smart mares, Golden Ace and Dysart Enos, will meet again in the TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle.

Fergal O’Brien’s Dysart Enos came out on top when they met in a Grade Two bumper at this meeting 12 months ago but she was denied her chance to go for glory at Cheltenham due to a minor setback.

Dysart Enos was denied the chance to run at Cheltenham
Dysart Enos was denied the chance to run at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

In her absence Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, beating some well-touted Irish contenders.

Standing in their way is Willie Mullins’ Supreme runner-up Mystical Power, the third Firefox and Ben Pauling’s promising Personal Ambition in a field of eight.

There are six in the Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase and none can be confidently ruled out.

Cheltenham winner Inothewayurthinkin and Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico will have plenty of supporters.

Henry de Bromhead sends over Heart Wood, Broadway Boy gets the chance to atone for missing Cheltenham, with Giovinco and Iroko not out of it either.

The Mullins-trained Dancing City and Readin Tommy Wrong, Shanagh Bob, Croke Park and The Jukebox Man, agonisingly reeled in by Stellar Story in the Albert Bartlett, are among nine in the Cavani Sartorial Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

Henderson hoping Sir Gino can put stable’s Cheltenham woes to one side

Nicky Henderson expects to know by Thursday evening whether his horses are over whatever was ailing them during the Cheltenham Festival, with Sir Gino and Shishkin all set for Aintree.

Henderson endured a miserable week in the Cotswolds and after racing on Wednesday of that week decided discretion was the better part of valour, pulling out all of his high-profile runners.

“Rather like before Cheltenham we’ve kept testing them and just like then, everything is fine – that’s the only worry really. It keeps telling us everything is fine,” said Henderson.

“The horses seem really well in themselves, the last work has all been done, they seem bright and perky and we’re looking forward to it.

“We’re going to know our fate pretty quickly. By Thursday night it will either be happening or it won’t be happening. Obviously we go with a fair amount of trepidation, but things seemed to have improved dramatically from the perspective of their work and everything at home.

“We’ve hardly run anything, but the two reasons we haven’t run anything, for instance at Hereford today I couldn’t make an entry on the card – I couldn’t find a horse who was qualified to run in any race, and of course the ground is desperate, so we’ll start at Aintree.”

After a quiet 10 days the Seven Barrows handler has been building them back up to peak fitness and Sir Gino, who had been odds-on for the Triumph Hurdle, will be first to test the water in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

Sir Gino was due to be odds-on at Cheltenham but missed the meeting
Sir Gino was due to be odds-on at Cheltenham but missed the meeting (Nigel French/PA)

“He was a horse that I honestly couldn’t find anything wrong with him, but we’d lost all confidence and I couldn’t face running a young horse like him,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“We’ve made no bones about it, we think he’s seriously good and I just couldn’t risk him. Joe Donnelly was wonderful because we had to take Sir Gino, Shishkin and Shanagh Bob out, all his, but there was no point in running them after the first two days.

“I trust in this fellow and he’s going to go out there carrying the Seven Barrows flag and I’m sure everyone is going to watch him like a hawk – I hope for all the right reasons.

“He won at Auteuil and as everybody knows, if you can handle that you can handle most things, and it was pretty soft on Trials day (at Cheltenham).”

Shishkin will then get his chance to shine in the Aintree Bowl having missed the Gold Cup.

Nicky Henderson with Shishkin
Nicky Henderson with Shishkin (David Davies/PA)

“The last week seems to have been great, Nico (de Boinville) rode him in his last piece of work on Saturday and said he felt fantastic and he’s looked up for it all this week.

“I just think everything has gone right, but he’s had a funny old year. He didn’t start, then he threw away the King George and then he won the Denman. Whatever anybody’s opinion of the King George doesn’t matter, he was still running a great race. The Denman was more than an ideal preparation for the Gold Cup, but here we are in the same place so hopefully all systems go.”

Henderson also runs the mares Luccia and Marie’s Rock in the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

Luccia (yellow hat) was not beaten far in the Champion Hurdle
Luccia (yellow hat) was not beaten far in the Champion Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

He said: “Luccia was the one bright light at Cheltenham. The Champion Hurdle had fallen apart as far as we were concerned without Constitution Hill, but Luccia ran a fantastic race when she was a very close third.

“The only thing here is we are going up half a mile. We haven’t thought about it a lot and always felt she wouldn’t stay, but one day you have to try and if she does stay from next season’s point of view it gives her so many more options. The alternative was to wait for Punchestown and walk into Lossiemouth.

“Marie’s Rock is between here and the three-miler, but in this sort of ground two and a half will be plenty for her. She’s got stamina and goes in the soft, but it’s a very tough race.”

Nico de Boinville says Constitution Hill ‘feeling a bit sorry for himself’

Nico de Boinville paid Constitution Hill a visit on Tuesday and said the former champion hurdler is feeling “a bit sorry for himself”.

Nicky Henderson’s stable star has had no end of health trouble this season, scoping dirty in January and then being laid low with an infection which ruled him out of the defence of his Champion Hurdle title.

Just when connections had hoped for some light at the end of the tunnel and a possible run at Punchestown, he was then struck down by suspected colic and spent a few nights at the vets.

It was a relieved Henderson that informed everyone on Monday he was now back at Seven Barrows and De Boinville was keen to check in on him.

“Everyone has been kept in the loop. I went to see him this morning and hopefully he picks up in the next couple of weeks,” he told Racing TV.

“He’s certainly feeling a bit sorry for himself and I can see why.”

Henderson: It’s wonderful to have Constitution Hill home

Constitution Hill is back at Nicky Henderson’s yard after a colic scare, with any thoughts of a trip to the Punchestown Festival now firmly ruled out.

The Seven Barrows handler announced on Sunday that his superstar hurdler had been taken to a veterinary hospital due a suspected colic on Wednesday night, describing it as a “few traumatic days” with the unbeaten gelding.

Henderson issued an upbeat bulletin on Monday with Constitution Hill returning to the Lambourn yard to continue his recovery, although the 2023 Champion Hurdle hero is in need of an extended period of rest.

That means a potential clash with last month’s Cheltenham victor State Man is now off the agenda until next term.

Nicky Henderson is pleased Constitution Hill is back at home
Nicky Henderson is pleased Constitution Hill is back at home (David Davies/PA)

In a statement posted on X, Henderson said: “Constitution Hill returned to Seven Barrows this morning and it is wonderful to have him home after what he has endured.

“He resumed normal feed yesterday with no further ill effects and had a nice pick of grass in the welcome sunshine.

“Hopefully this is all behind him now but I am afraid it is easy to see he had a difficult week and the reality is he is going to take some time to recover and put some weight back on again.

“Therefore our much anticipated match with State Man will have to wait until next season.”

Constitution Hill was an easy winner of the Christmas Hurdle
Constitution Hill was an easy winner of the Christmas Hurdle (John Walton/PA)

Constitution Hill has run just once this season after cold weather scuppered his initial planned return in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, with deep ground seeing him bypass the rescheduled event at Sandown.

He won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day in a canter, but an unsatisfactory scope saw him miss an intended Trials day run at Cheltenham before a respiratory infection ended his hopes of a Champion Hurdle defence last month.

The Fighting Fifth is pencilled in as a starting point for next season, though Henderson’s main priority remains Constitution Hill’s health.

He added: “As long as he is OK that is all that matters, but it has been a horrible few months since his great performance in the Christmas Hurdle. It is time for him to have a summer holiday now look forward to his return, hopefully in the Fighting Fifth.”

Constitution Hill in veterinary hospital to monitor suspected colic

Constitution Hill has suffered a setback in his health, with trainer Nicky Henderson describing a “few traumatic days” due to suspected colic.

The unbeaten seven-year-old missed the defence of his Champion Hurdle crown earlier this month due to a respiratory infection but had been reported to be recovering well, with a trip to the Punchestown Festival a possibility.

However, that now appears unlikely with Constitution Hill having been in veterinary care since Wednesday night.

Henderson is hoping his star performer can soon return to Seven Barrows, although he says the gelding is “not completely out of the woods” yet.

Nicky Henderson is hoping Constitution Hill can return to Seven Barrows soon
Nicky Henderson is hoping Constitution Hill can return to Seven Barrows soon (David Davies/PA)

In a statement on X, the trainer said: “We have had a few traumatic days with poor Constitution Hill as he had to go to the veterinary hospital on Wednesday night in order to monitor suspected colic and I am pleased to say that they have managed to avoid surgery so far and this morning he is being reintroduced to a normal diet and if this goes well he could come home in the next day or so.

“We are not completely out of the woods but very hopeful that he will soon be back which will be an enormous relief.

“This will obviously interfere with our plan to get to Punchestown which is very sad but the only important thing at the moment is to get him safely home.”