Henderson jumping for joy after his fourth title
NICKY Henderson was crowned champion jumps trainer for a fourth time after an epic battle with old adversary Paul Nicholls came to a conclusion as the curtain came down on the season at Sandown. It had been a match race between the two heavyweights of the National Hunt scene for some time, but Henderson had enough in hand to end another Nicholls surge.
Arkle hero Altior helped put the seal on the title in winning the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown, beating Special Tiara by eight lengths in the hands of Nico de Boinville as the 30/100 favourite.
Henderson said: “What a great horse to do it with. He’s very special. It’s a tough game and, to be fair, we have been consistent over the last few years and we’ve been second to Paul four or five times. I don’t think I’m coming to the end of it, I will keep going as long as everybody wants me to. When you enter a competition you want to win races, and if that means you’re going to finish at the top of the pile, so be it. It is a championship and it’s there to be fought for.”
Henderson had spoilt a long Nicholls’ streak when successful in the 2012-13 campaign, after the Ditcheat handler had been in charge since 2005-6. Now Henderson has done it again and it still seems incredible he had been in the wilderness as far as the title was concerned after coming out on top two seasons running in 1985-86 and 1986-87.
Next year will be the 40th that 66-year-old Henderson has held a licence. However, it has not all been plain-sailing for the master of Seven Barrows. A real low point came in November, when the same day as he had to call time on the fabulous career of champion two-miler Sprinter Sacre, the brilliant but fragile Simonsig was killed in action at Cheltenham.
Henderson was left reeling, but, in typical fashion, he was able to call upon the next generation of superstars. In Altior, Buveur D’Air and Might Bite, to name just three, he has horses who could dominate the sport for several years. Altior has looked the natural successor to Sprinter Sacre in the two-mile division, while Henderson’s brilliance as a trainer is no better illustrated than by Buveur D’Air, who was switched from novice chasing halfway through the campaign back to hurdling and went on to win the Champion Hurdle, no less. Might Bite has tested Henderson’s skills, but has the ability to be a serious contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after being the king of the staying novices.
Henderson said: “We took a bitter pill early on in the season when Sprinter had to retire as you always felt he could win the Tingle Creek, the Champion Chase and all sorts of things and be a flag-bearer. Once he was out, Simonsig got killed, which was horrible. You think, ‘Let’s have a good year’, but you never dream it would finish up like this.
“We’ve got some good novice chasers. We always knew Altior was a very good horse, Might Bite is interesting and exciting. We’ve also got Top Notch and Whisper — all good old soldiers.”
Altior ridden by Nico de Boinville leads Special Tiara with Noel Fehily on board over the last