Henderson’s Festival hints at a bright future

Only 12 months ago, champion trainer Nicky Henderson was celebrating a wonderfully successful Cheltenham Festival. Simonsig looked set to become a stable star after landing the Arkle. Bobs Worth proved himself the best staying chaser in the land when winning the Gold Cup. And the incredible Sprinter Sacre had soared to even greater heights. So as the new season arrived we all sat back in anticipation of jump racing domination, Henderson style. Yet if there’s one thing you quickly learn about this great sport, it’s just how fragile the stars of the show can be. Before the season’s action even began, Simonsig was struck down by injury. Then jump racing fans were stunned to see Henderson’s stable superstar Sprinter Sacre sidelined with a heart condition. Both are set to return next year, but such losses were certain to have a major impact on the stables fortunes. Fast forward to this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and is it such a surprise that Nicky Henderson’s team could only produce one winner? A surprise maybe that his only winner was not Festival specialist Bobs Worth. The Gold Cup favourite looked set for a repeat victory two out, but appeared to lack gears up the famous hill. Against popular opinion, it appears the quicker ground did not suit. Henderson’s only winner came in the Coral Cup, when Whisper got the better of the perpetual Festival runner-up Get Me Out Of Here. It was a terrific win for a horse rated 153 in such a competitive handicap. The horse could easily have been sent chasing this season, but the decision to embark on another hurdles campaign could prove a master-stroke. He looks to have strengthened considerably during the season and could be something special when finally sent over fences next winter, still only a six-year-old. But Whisper wasn’t the only eye-catching Henderson performer. He looks set to have several top-class novice chasers next season. Two potential stars ran oustanding races in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The enormous Josses Hill ran a blinder to finish second behind Mullins’ Vautour. He is every inch a chaser in the making. His breeding suggests he’ll stay much further than two miles. It would be no surprise to see him back at Cheltenham Festival 2015 as a fancied runner in the RSA Chase. Vaniteux was third in the Supreme just half a length behind his stablemate. A year younger than Josses Hill, this was only his fourth career start. It was a terrific performance from such a raw inexperienced horse. Thought by his trainer to have “plenty of speed”, he has the size and scope to make into a serious Arkle contender. Sprinter Sacre himself was similarly third as a raw inexperienced five-year-old back in the Supreme of 2011. Willie Mullins may have a potential superstar in Vautour, but Nicky Henderson could have one of his own in Vaniteux. My Tent Or Yours is the undoubted flag-bearer for Nicky Henderson over hurdles, but it’s in the chasing division that Henderson could hold a plethora of firepower. This year’s Cheltenham Festival may have failed to deliver the number of victories the Lambourn trainer would have hoped for, but there was no shortage of classy performances. If Nicky Henderson can get all of his stars fit for battle, the Cheltenham Festival of 2015 has the potential of being one of his greatest.