Racing: Is Indien man enough for triumph over hurdles?

If there was such a thing as an equine catwalk, Etendard Indien would stand apart from his mostly jump-bred brethren. Flashy, just that little bit pleased with himself, the type to preen for the cameras. And for the moment, at least, boasting that comparative rarity for male National Hunt horses, the retention of his manhood.

If there was such a thing as an equine catwalk, Etendard Indien would stand apart from his mostly jump-bred brethren. Flashy, just that little bit pleased with himself, the type to preen for the cameras. And for the moment, at least, boasting that comparative rarity for male National Hunt horses, the retention of his manhood.

Whether Nicky Henderson's four-year-old has the balls required to add another Triumph Hurdle victory to the stable's trio - First Bout in 1985, Alone Success in 1987 and Katarino in 1999 - who have already emerged, well, triumphant from that most exacting and pitiless of examinations for any four-year-old is another matter.

If looks won prizes, the Triumph Hurdle, the opening event on Friday week at the Cheltenham Festival, would already be destined for this Group Three-winning stayer on the Flat in France when trained by André Fabre. That plus an affinity, which not all Flat horses have, for the sudden imposition of obstacles.

Not for the first occasion, Henderson is experiencing the vagaries of Cheltenham preparation. Etendard Indien's first outing over hurdles was a facile success. At Newbury on Friday, he capitulated from the second last. The trainer, who attributed the defeat to the colt's jumping and the ground, still has the Festival in mind for him. But Hender-son knows better than most how exacting and pitiless an examination Cheltenham can be.

"On the day you've got to have the temperament and a toughness, because these races are fierce-tough," declares Henderson. "It's nothing like a normal race. You never get a false-run race. You always know they're going to go at an ultra-fast pace and it's going to be very, very competitive. There's no room for mistakes, or the faint-hearted."

If any trainer comprehends what it takes to claim one of the Festival showpiece events it is Henderson, whose 30-year career in the sport began the moment the then amateur rider eschewed the prospect of a potentially prosperous career as a stockbroker and instead joined the legendary trainer Fred Winter as his assistant. He was supported in that endeavour by his late father, Johnny, after whom the Grand Annual Chase has been named this year. It is a well-merited prefix. Without Henderson Snr, Cheltenham racecourse itself might not have survived back in the Sixties. It was Henderson who founded Racecourse Holdings Trust (RHT), a Jockey Club subsidiary, in 1964.

"My father recognised that somebody needed to get a grip on these racecourses before they were lost, and ensured that at least some were owned by racing itself," said his son. The RHT now have 13 courses under their auspices.

Those courses have pulled through. Now it is jump racing as a code that is in jeopardy, imperiled by the number of small fields, the public perception of equine injuries, the advent of all-weather Flat racing, and the ban on hunting. "You do worry about it, because it has been under threat," says Henderson. "I'd be confident that it will survive, though. The hunting ban is sad, but it's not the nail in the coffin of jump racing. As for Cheltenham, I've no doubt that it will be here for many years to come."

The same can be said for Henderson, 54. "It's odd, really; I wasn't meant to be training horses at all. I was meant to be in the City. That would probably have been an easy sort of life, wouldn't it? Fortunately, I went to Fred. He was the trainer, a man of integrity and honesty, and a great sportsman. It was a wonderful place to be, and I was learning off the right man."

He was educated so well, in fact, that no fewer than 25 Cheltenham winners have been the result, of which Remittance Man's 1992 Queen Mother Champion Chase and See You Then's Champion Hurdle three-timer in the mid-Eighties were the zenith.

Henderson admits he is "not a good watcher of races". The last two Festivals have not made a pleasing spectacle. Both have been barren for his Seven Barrows yard, which nestles in the Lambourn Downs, and, indeed, there was a time when the dreaded virus struck in the winter that this year's Cheltenham assault appeared in doubt, too.

Fortunately, it proved a relatively brief hiatus in Henderson's pre-Cheltenham programme. Since emerging from those desperate weeks, his team have prospered. His best expectation is Trabolgan in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase (although he may just possibly contest the Gold Cup). "If back to his Feltham Novice Chase form [when just run out of it by Ollie Magern at Kempton on Boxing Day] he has a great chance," says Henderson.

Other prime contenders include: Fondmort (the Daily Telegraph Trophy's 2m 5f is "tailor-made"); Dancing Bay (Coral Cup); and Papini (Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle).

Even in this shivering week, Henderson's horses had a certain presence. Something convinces you that after darkness, there will be light.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home