By Calum Madell
Even though not lacking in his amount of winners this season , trainer Nicky Henderson has been relatively quiet in the big Autumn races of this jumps campaign.
But that all changed on Saturday when the Seven Barrows master took the final 3 and also most valuable races on the Cheltenham card. The highlight of the treble, which was a perfect birthday present for the 61-year-old, was the highly impressive victory of Grandouet in the Stan James International Hurdle.
The 4yo once again travelled strongly and jumped impeccably with the main worry being that he wouldn’t find much off the bridle. However when push came to shove, Barry Geraghty found more than enough to take the race by 4 lengths with a lot more to spare.
Grandouet is now a clear 6/1 2nd favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March and with slight doubts over favourite Hurricane Fly, he looks to have a big chance.
35 minutes before, Geraghty was seen at his imperious best when winning the Spinal Research Atlantic 4 Gold Cup on Quantitativeeasing. The Anshan gelding didn’t get the most ideal of runs after coming from further back than planned and also being hampered at the 12th fence.
Even over the last fence he looked destined for 3rd as the leader Roudoudou Ville battled on for more pressure and Theyoungracegoer tip Medermit found his dangerous turn of foot. But the McManus horse got up in the final yards to take the first major prize of his career after finishing 2nd in the Paddy Power and at the Festival.
The treble was completed by victory in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle for Oscar Whisky. Once again ridden by Geraghty, the 4/9 shot was only workmanlike in dismissing Get Me Out Of Here by just over a length. bu it was promising to see him take victory after a nasty fall at the last fence in the Coral Hurdle last time out at Ascot.
Championship trainer leader Paul Nicholls still had his say on the day with a double courtesy of Join Together and Deireadh Re.
With the retirement of Denman confirmed 24 hours before, it was fitting to see the Tanks colours take victory in the 2nd race as Join Together gamely fought up the hill to win by 12 lengths, Henderson’s Mossley in 2nd.
Deireadh Re meanwhile took full advantage of a final fence fall of Sea Of Thunder who had the race all sewn up to take the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett. The faller showed an impressive turn of foot and show of jumping until getting the last all wrong and taking a crashing fall.
Nevertheless this was a huge boost for the Charlie Longsdon trained Hazy Tom who dismissed the likely winner by 12 lengths at Wetherby last time out and remains an extremely bright prospect.
Although having an extremely strong start to the season, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Nicholls who saw his highly regarded juvenile hurdler Hinterland well beaten in the 1st by the Tom George French recruit Baby Mix.
Hinterland had been mightily impressive at the Paddy Power meeting but even though giving weight away, was beaten fair and square by the exciting Baby Mix who is now 8/1 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle.
The victory of Grandouet later on in the card made it a double for French sire Al Namix who is starting to make a name for himself as a jumps sire. Also with victory for Solix on friday made it a treble over the 2 days for Al Namix.
Elswhere A fantastic ride from Sam Twiston-Davies saw Astracad home in the Class 2 Jenny Mould Memorial Chase. Trained by his father Nigel, Astracad had chased home the promising Al Ferof on his last start at the Paddy Power meeting and gave the Nicholls chaser as significant form boost with victory here. The Venetia Williams trained Rileyev put up a game fight but Twiston-Davies was at his best to see his mount home.
However this was Henderson’s day, who now jumps into a clear 2nd in the trainers title with just under £700,000 of prize-money. Even though leader Paul Nicholls is closing in on a million, Henderson’s strike-rate of 29% is incomparable to any other trainer in the top half of the table.
And with many more of his cavalry to come out soon, notably Finian’s Rainbow and Long Run, the title challenge may be much closer than many feel it will be. Now 7/4 from 11/4 with some but 5/2 in places, he looks good value to beat the Ditcheat master.
Nicky Henderson to win the 2011-12 Trainer’s Championship 5pts win @5/2 Paddy Power and Stan James