Champion trainer Nicky Henderson strikes with big-race double

 

For champion trainer Nicky Henderson, the season started in earnest yesterday as the rather dull, by his standards, opening to the defence of his title came to a decisive end with a sparkling big-race double. My Tent Or Yours presented satisfactory Champion Hurdle credentials in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, and less than an hour later Triolo D'Alene took the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. And there is the Seven Barrows superstar Sprinter Sacre to look forward to at Sandown on Saturday.

Triolo D'Alene, a 20-1 shot, gave Henderson and rider Barry Geraghty back-to-back Hennessy victories after Bobs Worth, the subsequent winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yesterday's hero has the Grand National as his prime target; he has already won over the unique fences, in the Topham Trophy in April, and after his determined defeat of Rocky Creek is the early favourite at around 16-1 to give his trainer a first success in the Aintree showpiece.

That Geraghty was in Triolo D'Alene's saddle yesterday was a matter of luck rather than judgement. The Irishman tossed a coin to decide between the six-year-old and his better-fancied stablemate Hadrian's Approach, who unseated Nico de Boinville at the fifth obstacle.

Triolo D'Alene himself blundered at the final obstacle, causing his rider to sit tight as he ploughed flatly through the top. But by then he was in full flow – he had travelled easily throughout the extended three-and-a-quarter miles to lead before the penultimate obstacle – and after regaining his balance found reserves enough to rally past Rocky Creek. "He has such a great attitude," said Geraghty.

The French-bred chestnut, owned by Sandy and Caroline Orr, came in two-and-three-quarter lengths clear of Rocky Creek, with 33-1 shot Theatre Guide third, ahead of the trailblazing Highland Lodge (6-1). "He has always worked like a good horse," said Henderson. "After he won the Topham Barry begged me to put him away for the National and hold his mark. But I think we can safely say we've messed that up."

My Tent Or Yours is now favourite in some lists for the Champion Hurdle after his comfortable defeat of Cockney Sparrow in the day's Grade One feature. It was a slick display from the six-year-old on his first senior outing, but his rider, Tony McCoy, poured scorn on the bookmakers' reaction. "He's won easy," he said, "but you'd have wanted him to, really.

"It was a good starting point but he was by far the best on paper going in, and for the life of me I can't understand bookmakers cutting him for the Champion Hurdle. Hurricane Fly has won 17 Grade Ones and is still the one to beat."

My Tent Or Yours will have his next test in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Ireland's top Champion Hurdle contenders – minus Hurricane Fly – will step up to the plate this afternoon at Fairyhouse, where Jezki heads five runners for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle.

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