There ain't nothing, as far as Nicky Henderson is concerned, like a dame. Particularly one Amaretto Rose, whom he rates the best of the many talented mares he has had through his hands. Weather allowing, the seven-year-old will be trying to lay down her Champion Hurdle credentials in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday.
The daughter of Alflora will be making her reappearance after being beset by physical problems since finishing a fine, but unlucky, third in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle. A nasty cut to a leg, sustained as she was buffeted during the race, took time to heal, and then an eye injury delayed her schedule.
"She is a hugely talented animal," said Henderson yesterday, "with so much tactical speed. She's ready to go, but the ground may not suit her, as she likes it soft. But the problem is we're running out of options. We'll have a look and make a decision on Friday."
Though Amaretto Rose has not yet done her bit for girl power this season, she helped fillies and mares to their best total in graded races last term. Then, 18 individual distaffers won 26 races; their record during the current campaign – 12 winner of 15 races – is on the same schedule.
Results like these have been no accident; rather, they are the culmination of a masterplan decades in the making. Female athletes in any discipline are generally not as powerful as their male counterparts, and need allowances. But it was only 25 years ago that fillies and mares began to play off the red tees with the introduction of a weight-for-sex allowance in top hurdles and chases. Dawn Run, the 1984 Champion Hurdle winner, was the first high-profile beneficiary.
Since then further carrots have been dangled to make them attractive propositions for jumping owners. Twenty years ago there were two dozen races in the British calendar confined to females; this season there are 187 including, for the first time, a contest at the Cheltenham Festival.
The expanding programme suits Henderson, who has a greater proportion of fillies and mares among his string than any other jump trainer. "I love training them," he said, "and we've done very well with them. The more opportunities there are for them, the more will be attracted into the system, and that will allow the better ones to emerge.
"We've got 32 here among 110 horses – that's nearly a third – and there's another arriving tonight. Yes, some of them do have to be trained differently from geldings – temperamentally, some need a more careful approach – but a good one will go to the end of the earth for you."
Names like Fiddling The Facts, Nas Na Riogh, Liberthine, Makounji and Conquering Leader have been testament to Henderson's art of how to handle a woman and currently alongside Amaretto Rose at Seven Barrows are Chomba Womba, a leading fancy for the Cheltenham mares' race, Shatabdi, scheduled to run at Ascot on Saturday, and recent dual winner Classic Fiddle.
The last-named is out of Fiddling The Facts. "One of the nice things is getting the next generation," said Henderson. "You get to know the families and what they can take. You didn't have to be too careful with Fiddling the Facts, who was tough, and her daughters are the same. Not film stars to look at, but tough."
Amaretto Rose was one of 29 left in the Champion Hurdle yesterday. "At her best," said Henderson, "she'd be good enough to take on the boys and I just hope we can get her there."
* Frankie Dettori takes the mount on highly regarded Godolphin colourbearer Etched in today's UAE 2,000 Guineas. The unbeaten colt, winner of a New York grade three last time, has the Kentucky Derby as his target and will be accompanied to post today by stablemates My Indy and Numaany, wide-margin winner of an Aqueduct maiden despite jinking and virtually stopping early in the straight.Reuse content