Racing: Festival offers Henderson chance to celebrate an age of achievement
Despite its appellation, Seven Barrows, there are actually 26 of the eponymous Bronze Age burial mounds clustered near Nicky Henderson's stable yard on the northern outskirts of Lambourn.
Despite its appellation, Seven Barrows, there are actually 26 of the eponymous Bronze Age burial mounds clustered near Nicky Henderson's stable yard on the northern outskirts of Lambourn. By coincidence, that will also be the number of Cheltenham Festival winners trained by Henderson should he achieve his heart's desire two weeks tomorrow, the day that the Grand Annual Chase will be run for the first time with the name of his late father Johnny attached.
In 1964, Henderson Snr founded the company that secured Cheltenham's future; 21 years later his son notched the first of his 25 Festival successes. And as sentiment and blood ties have long been part of the sport's fabric, and the fairytale system a reliable enough method of pinpointing winners, the names Caracciola and Tysou should go down in the notebook.
"The race named after Dad is the one race that I really want to win," said Henderson yesterday. "I've entered eight in it and I had a vision of them forming a phalanx in front and keeping the others at bay. But probably the two carrying the flag will be Caracciola and Tysou. I've been keeping Caracciola just for the race, but part of the cunning plan went wrong when Kempton was off last Friday and he couldn't have a run. Tysou hasn't run since November, but he has to be kept fresh. He has a huge amount of ability, nothing here can work with him, and one day he will win a good race. I just hope this will be it."
The two eight-year-olds were among 17 Henderson hopefuls proudly paraded in his indoor school during the morning as a snowstorm raged outside. The horses visibly shivered as their warm rugs were stripped off, but there was no denying the inner glow emanating from their healthy hides. Henderson was forced to take his foot off the pedal for several weeks earlier in the winter after a viral infection swept through the string but yesterday, two weeks before the opening of his favourite meeting, he allowed himself some optimism. "Things can still go wrong," he said. "A horse can stand on a stone, get kicked, pull a muscle. But they seem well in themselves again, and look it, and they're fresh."
Despite his Grand Annual dreams, Henderson nominated Trabolgan as the yard's best hope. The sleek, dark seven-year-old has already run with honour at the meeting - he beat all bar Liberman in the Bumper two years ago - and has made a bright start to his novice chasing career, his three runs having yielded an easy defeat of Kadount, a short-head second to much more battle-hardened Ollie Magern in a Grade 1, and a floundering second on heavy ground at Haydock in January.
"Mick [Fitzgerald, the stable jockey] said that he floated to the start at Haydock, but as soon as he took two steps on the track itself to have a look at the first fence, it was as if someone had chopped the wheels off the car," said Henderson. "You can forget that run. Mick was very kind to him, really looked after him. But proper good ground will be essential to him." Trabolgan still holds the Gold Cup entry - and owner Trevor Hemmings took the trouble to remind Henderson of the fact by mobile during the parade - but the Royal & SunAlliance Chase remains his trainer's preferred option.
Henderson's first Festival strike was in the Triumph Hurdle, a race he has also won with Alone Success and Katarino. His prime candidate for this year's contest will be Etendard Indien, a classy ex-French colt, winner of a Group 3 on the Flat before turning his hooves to obstacles. "He's a classy horse with a lot of style and enjoys jumping," he said. "He's not been a natural, though; he's still learning." Etendard Indien is scheduled to continue that process at Newbury tomorrow. Henderson also intends despatching a boxload, including Daily Telegraph Trophy candidates Calling Brave and Fondmort, to the Berkshire track on Sunday morning to apply more finishing touches.
Among current practitioners, Henderson has a numerical Festival record second only to Martin Pipe's 32. But since a glorious quartet in 2000 - Tiutchev, Stormyfairweather, Bacchanal and Marlborough - only The Bushkeeper, three years ago, has obliged. And the trainer, who has 66 Festival entries, admits that there is no one big horse among his squad this time. "We are lacking a superstar," he said. "It seems a while since the days of See You Then and Remittance Man." Appropriately, given the current weather, he wants to come in from the cold.
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