Henderson back winning again, as D-Day looms for Constitution Hill

By Sports Desk March 02, 2024

Nicky Henderson was back among the winners on Saturday to give him something to smile about as he awaits the Cheltenham Festival fate of Constitution Hill.

The champion hurdler scoped badly in the immediate aftermath of his disappointing Kempton workout on Tuesday, while blood test results received on Thursday gave connections even more cause for concern.

A further scope conducted on Friday appeared more encouraging, but Henderson revealed a second blood test to be taken on Monday would be the “acid test”.

He said: “The blood test on Monday will tell us everything and we will know where we are after that.

“If we don’t get the results we want on Monday I wouldn’t go as far as to say it will be the end of the season. Let’s just cross each bridge when we come across it.

“When you train horses you are going to walk into these situations and you’ve got to face up to it.

“It had all been too easy. Everybody thinks it is ‘ABC’ and it has been with him, except he can’t tell you when he’s wrong because he so laid-back about life.

“He’s the slowest walker, the slowest trotter and you have to drag him out of bed on a morning. With most horses you can tell, but with him you can’t as he can’t talk to you, most horses can.”

Spring Note won at Newbury for the Seven Barrows handler, while the Grade One-winning Jango Baie finished second in front of Henderson at Kelso, after which he said: “That’s the second time he’s had to run in a really good race with a 5lb penalty, it stops them. But if you win a Grade One you can’t have your cake and eat it.

“He’s a good horse. He wants to go up in trip, there’s no doubt about that, two-mile-two is tight for him. You could go two and a half but he won over two miles at Aintree, mainly because he stays.

“Over fences he’ll be going three, I’d imagine, and he’ll be very good. This time next year hopefully we’ll be talking about Cheltenham with him.

“Of course it’s nice to see one run well, I’m conscious of what’s happening, but it’s not a lot of pleasure, I can tell you that.

“To be fair the ground in our neck of the woods is so bad, and our horses always want better ground.”

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    Leighlinbridge will welcome the return of yet another Willie Mullins champion on Tuesday evening, with Randox Grand National hero I Am Maximus set to enjoy his homecoming parade.

    It is little over a month since Galopin Des Champs received the acclaim of the locals after successfully defending his crown in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a fourth blue riband in six years for Mullins following the back-to-back victories of Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

    Similar scenes can be expected on Tuesday, with the JP McManus-owned I Am Maximus, along with Mullins and jockey Paul Townend, due to parade through Leighlinbridge in County Carlow at 5.30pm before posing for photographs outside of the renowned Lord Bagenal Inn.

    Patrick Mullins reported I Am Maximus to have returned to Ireland none the worse after providing his father with a second National win, the first being Hedgehunter 19 years ago, and reserved special praise for Townend, who completed the extremely rare feat of winning the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year.

    “It was an incredible day and it was some ride from Paul, he was at his best,” said Mullins.

    “There’s not a bother on him (I Am Maximus). It’s not the race it was, so it’s a bit easier to come out of it well.”

  • Mr Incredible set to be part of powerful Ayr raid for title-chasing Mullins Mr Incredible set to be part of powerful Ayr raid for title-chasing Mullins

    Having made it no further than The Chair in the Randox Grand National at Aintree on Saturday, Mr Incredible is set to make a swift reappearance as part of Willie Mullins’ assault on this weekend’s Coral Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr.

    The victory of I Am Maximus in the world’s most famous steeplechase put Mullins in pole position in the race to be crowned Britain’s champion trainer in less than a fortnight’s time, and the Closutton team are keen to press home their advantage by sending a formidable squad to Scotland.

    Mullins has made 33 entries across this weekend’s eight-race card, with six standing their ground for the £200,000 main event.

    Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, told the PA news agency: “We had a good look at what we could enter and what could be competitive and what races were worth nice money. We’ll definitely be doing our very best after the position we find ourselves in now.

    “We’ve just got to find the right horses for the right races. Obviously Punchestown is very high in our thoughts as well.

    “We were in a very similar position eight years ago and Paul Nicholls came back and beat us, so we’re not taking anything for granted just yet.”

    The sponsors make the Mullins-trained Fairyhouse scorer Macdermott their 6-1 favourite for the Scottish National, with Mr Incredible’s odds slashed from 8-1 from 16-1 after he was left in the race at Monday’s confirmation stage.

    As short as 10-1 at Aintree, the talented but not entirely predictable eight-year-old was slow to start at Aintree, was impeded by the fall of the loose Corach Rambler at the second fence and then again by Mahler Mission when eventually unseating his rider at the 15th.

    Mullins said: “He started slowly and only did a lap before he came down, so he didn’t exert himself too much. He’ll probably take his chance again on Saturday.

    “He actually jumped The Chair perfectly and ran into the back of a horse that made a mistake.

    “He didn’t get a great start and nothing went right, but it might be all for luck.

    “It’s a huge step up in class for Macdermott, but he has always looked a staying chaser and the extended trip should bring out the best in him.”

    Ontheropes, Spanish Harlem, Klark Kent and We’llhavewan are the trainer’s other Scottish National hopefuls, while Westport Cove, Bialystok, Ocastle Des Mottes and Alvaniy are all possible representatives in the £100,000 Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle.

    Other Mullins-trained entries on the card include the popular veteran Sharjah, who is in the opening Scotty Brand Handicap Chase and the CPMS Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase, both worth £50,000, with impressive Punchestown winner Billericay Dickie one of 10 in the £20,000 Tennent’s Novices’ Hurdle.

    “I don’t know what will run at this stage, we’ll have to have a look at the weights when they come out, but at the moment everything is possible,” Mullins added.

    “There’s a chance Paul (Townend) will be over and there’s a chance plenty of our jockeys will be over, I’d say. I’ve never been to Ayr, but I’m thinking I’ll be travelling over this weekend anyway.”

    The only previous Irish-based trainer to be crowned champion in Britain was the great Vincent O’Brien, who claimed back-to-back titles in the 1950s.

    On the prospect of emulating the legendary handler, Mullins said: “To me Vincent O’Brien is the legend of the game, not a legend of the game, so to match something Vincent O’Brien did would be an extraordinary achievement and one everyone would be very proud of, but it won’t be easy.”

  • Gilligan so proud of another fine effort from Buddy One Gilligan so proud of another fine effort from Buddy One

    Paul Gilligan has an eye on the Punchestown Festival after another huge run from stable star Buddy One in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle.

    The seven-year-old did connections proud when ridden by the trainer’s son, Jack, to finish fourth at 40-1 in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

    From there he took aim at the Aintree staying prize and this time he was not so overlooked in the market when starting at odds of 15-2.

    After running prominently the gelding hit the front with three flights left to jump and at one point looked the winner, but it was Olly Murphy’s Strong Leader who surged to the head of the field to prevail.

    Buddy One was still a gallant second, however, and could now head to Punchestown to round off his season before he is aimed at a novice chasing campaign next year.

    “He came home 100 per cent from it, fresh and well, I’m over the moon with the run,” said Gilligan.

    “It’s a pity one had to pass us, but we’re delighted with him and he’s very, very well after it.

    “He’s run two massive races in Grade One company over hurdles and he’ll jump a fence, we’ll definitely go chasing with him next year.

    “It’s up in the air whether he’ll go to Punchestown with him, we possibly will, in fact I think we might, but we’ll see and the main thing to us is that he’s safe and sound.”

    Gilligan is hoping Buddy One’s exploits at the two biggest National Hunt meetings in England will do the trick when it comes to attracting new owners to his Galway stable.

    He said: “We had a great time in Cheltenham and Aintree and these horses are hard to come by, we’re just hoping next time we come to England somebody will say ‘will you take a horse or two for me!’.”

    Gilligan is father to Jack, who claims 7lb, and also Danny, who claims 5lb and rides predominantly for Gordon Elliott.

    Both jockeys were in demand throughout the Aintree meeting, with Danny partnering Elliott’s Chemical Energy in the Grand National.

    Gilligan said of his sons: “I have two lads riding on the big stage, Jack has been riding for us here and Danny is riding for Gordon and it’s a great old feeling.

    “Myself and my wife Natalie, we’re proud like any parents would be, we get a wonderful kick out of it.”

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