Horse Racing

Henderson the doyen of trainers blessed with a strong constitution

The godfather of the legendary English coach Nicky Henderson was Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, and he would be justly proud of his godson’s military work in training 72 winners of the Cheltenham Festival.

The elder jump coach looks well-equipped to top his tally on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s Festival, with the undefeated Constitution Hill in the Champion’s signature hurdle race.

If successful, this would give the 72-year-old Henderson a record ninth win in the race, which began with See You Then, which won the first of his three wins in 1985.

Henderson, whose late father Johnny was Montgomery’s aide-de-camp, or “Monty” as he was commonly known, ran through the veins from an early age.

After leaving Eton, he tried his hand at banking, but quickly realized that it was not for him.

“I used to sit and read The Sporting Life, wrapping the outer pages of the Financial Times to avoid detection,” he told the Racing Post in 2020.

“But with only one A-Level in French, I was never ready for it.”

Six coaching titles and all significant Grand National races proved that he made the right choice.

However, according to former jockey Mick Fitzgerald, what distinguishes him is his ability to face the dark days.

“The thing about horse racing is that you lose a lot more than you win,” Fitzgerald told AFP.

“One thing about Nicky Henderson is that he loses very well and wins very well.

“When he loses, he doesn’t hide or disappear, he admits it face to face and is quite happy to give an interview.

“We all slipped away, I did it, wanting the earth to swallow you. It’s not him”.

– ‘King of the Hill’ –

Fitzgerald, whose biggest victories in the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the 1996 Grand National were not achieved on Henderson horses, says another of his old boss’s qualities is keeping his cool.

“It’s easy to lose faith and try something because you panic. There is no panic with Nicky, ”said the 52-year-old Irishman.

“He’s a very good race watcher in the sense that he can see a lot more because he doesn’t get too emotional when he watches his horses.”

According to fellow coach Jamie Snowden, who was his assistant from 2004 to 2008, Henderson’s recipe for staying competitive for so long is that he can keep up with the times.

“He’s a great coach,” Snowden told AFP.

“He has adapted and reformulated his methods over the years.

“His roots are very traditional and I would like to hope that we will follow his example and support as much as possible.

“He is an incredible person who still loves and craves racing.”

Fitzgerald says there was not a word of anger between him and Henderson in their 15 years as a team, and that, unlike some coaches, there was an open debate about tactics.

“There is a discussion about the best way to ride a horse,” he said.

“He had a great rapport with all the jockeys who rode for him: Richard Dunwoody before me, Barry Geraghty after me and now Nico de Boisville.

“He doesn’t push you too hard, he always supports you.

“He made me feel like the king of the mountain.”

Fitzgerald, whose four Henderson victories at the 2000 Cheltenham Festival saw him become the top driver, says there’s a reason owners still flock to his stables.

“He loves Cheltenham and a lot of his owners keep horses with them because of that,” Fitzgerald said.

“Nicky has proven over the years that he is really good at training horses.

“He never rushes the horse, he lets them tell him when they are ready.

“He listens to them really well and makes them peak at the right time.”



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