Hen­der­son jump­ing for joy after his fourth ti­tle

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RACING - GRA­HAM CLARK

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

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