Ascot’s electric atmosphere is the only part Henderson misses in the race for the ages
If Nicky Henderson had one thing he would do differently if the SBK Clarence House Chase was organized again, it would be watching him on the trail.
The Seven Barrows coach felt he might have missed the electric atmosphere produced by the crowds at Ascot on Saturday as Shishkin and Energumene served up one of the most thrilling races in decades.
Staring at a television inside the grandstand, he couldn’t quite appreciate what the battle meant to the enthralled spectators glued to the spectacle.
“There were times when I thought we were in trouble and thankfully it didn’t last,” he said.
“In fact, I rather regret it. I watched it on a TV inside the grandstand and probably lost a bit of the vibe because everyone said it was amazing – the noise, the crowd – and I was actually inside rather than outside which was a shame because I probably missed what the best part of it was.
“The best part was the race itself. He had his moments. You must say that on the way back and going to the penultimate, we had quite a few problems. Halfway through the last Nico (de Noinville) said he had stalled and thought he was going to catch up. I was happy that he was confident, because I wasn’t so confident until halfway through the break-in when you could see the gap was closing quite quickly.
“But they had gone really hard, because they were going really hard all the way. The only sad part of the race was that there had to be a loser. I was obviously glad it wasn’t us, but Willie (Mullins) is a great mate. We have one thing in common: we are the only two coaches to have a trilby on our heads.
Henderson is now focused on a rematch in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He said: “The great thing is that one of them didn’t win by 10 lengths, which would actually take the shine off the chase for champions. It’s just revenge. There is nothing in it. It’s a different track, it’s a different path, and there are all kinds of puzzles that come into play.
“We both have to get there and I think, as we’ve said many times, that’s the most crucial thing. Anything can go wrong, even at the last minute.
“Shishkin corrects himself with his left hand so if he wants to do something he will go left. It made no difference. That was my only concern before the race yesterday. We saw quite a few horses going up that hill at Ascot going quite hard to the left and that was the only thing.
“Nico was so good with him. He had it in his hands the whole way. It was hard work, hard work. They were brave horses.
“He weighed 523 to 509 kilos from Kempton to Ascot. That’s why I was more relaxed than people imagined. Everything had gone well. We had our prep race, his work had been great, Nico had given him a canter the previous Saturday and said he felt wonderful.
“He jumped five hurdles on Thursday and he was brilliant. I couldn’t have had it any better than we had it yesterday.
Before Shishkin and Energumene clashed, Henderson had all eyes on Haydock, where Jonbon had his last mission.
Douvan’s full brother wasn’t as spectacular as he was, but by beating Richmond Lake by three lengths in the second-grade Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle he maintained his unbeaten record and stayed on the good track for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson was actually particularly pleased with what he saw of Aidan Coleman’s mount.
“Jonbon was good. It was a fantastic race – he’s a good horse who can step up twice and he did that,” he said.
“He went from three to two and then he accelerated after the last one. It was all he needed. It was exactly what he needed and Aidan said he was very happy with it.
“They are both great this morning and we couldn’t be happier with them. I felt, from Jonbon’s perspective, it was a great race at Haydock on terrain that didn’t look ideal.
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