Henderson seeking answers after Festival disappointment

By Sports Desk March 16, 2024

Nicky Henderson is planning a quiet few days as he tries to get to the bottom of the issue that scuppered his Cheltenham Festival hopes.

With Constitution Hill ruled out of a Champion Hurdle defence the week before the fixture due to a respiratory infection, Henderson’s week got off to an inauspicious start with five of his six runners pulled up on Tuesday.

That prompted the Seven Barrows trainer to rule out a string of leading contenders, with Jonbon missing his Champion Chase date, ante-post favourite Sir Gino sidestepping the Triumph Hurdle and Shishkin ruled out of his Cheltenham Gold Cup assignment due to an unsatisfactory scope.

A handful of Henderson runners did perform with credit at Cheltenham, most notably Champion Hurdle third Luccia, and Persian Time offered a further glimmer of hope when digging deep for a neck verdict in the Try Unibet’s New Acca Boosts Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Henderson has no entries until Spring Note at Newbury on Friday and will now attempt to establish what has troubled his recent runners.

He told Racing TV: “It has been a difficult 10 days because to be fair, I think we knew before we went there that they hadn’t been running to what you would hope for.

“It’s nice just to sort of close the whole week down, we have nothing else (running) today.

“We probably will have hardly any runners next week and let the whole thing settle down and see if we can get to the bottom of what has been ailing, although it’s difficult to say ailing as they seem to be well, everything checks out right but they certainly checked out wrong at the top of that far hill last week – they couldn’t get over the top of it.

“I think we just take the whole thing apart and try to put it back piece by piece to see if there is a piece missing anywhere. I think there is something missing – there is no doubt about that – they’ve got to keep ticking over and I’d like to go quietly for one week and just let the whole thing die down.

“Everyone has been so incredibly helpful and I really appreciate it. We have just to got to see if there is a piece of the jigsaw missing and I hope it’s as simple as that, but it’s not there in black and white.

“Normally with the blood tests and scopes you can identify a problem – there’s just no sign of an issue. I do think the horses look well, they seem to be well, their work has been good, everything checks out right but they just weren’t performing at all and at the end, we just didn’t run – you were just getting scared to run.

“We will be quiet next week, hopefully we can then kick on to Aintree and Punchestown. There’s a lot still to come and they will come back I am sure. We have got a wonderful team at home and are surrounded by great people and we will get it back on track.

“I think everyone knows what Cheltenham is to nearly all of us and to come out of there like that – we’ve just had some wonderful years but you’re never going to get complacent about it. The amazing thing was the support we have had, everybody has been fantastic and I’m very grateful.”

Persian Time was last seen when pulled up behind Ginny’s Destiny at Cheltenham’s Trials day in January, but after bouncing back to form, a trip to Ayr could now be on the agenda for the gelding, who is owned by the McNeill and Stone families.

Henderson added: “He’s been good at home. On Trials day, he didn’t really want to have a cut at his fences there, then he was much happier today. He was tanking going down to the start and you could tell after the first three fences he was a different horse today.

“He’s a nice fellow and he’s going the right way, so let’s hope we can keep it going. There will be plenty more for him this season I would hope.

“I know Ayr is their (owners) very favourite track so I would think we might be scouring the programme book to see what there is for him there. he ran very well in a novice hurdle up there last year and just got touched off by what’s turned out to be a decent horse – Ayr could be good.”

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