Dawn's rise a run too soon for Henderson
Nicky Henderson knows there are times when a trainer is compelled to run a horse in a certain race, regardless of the date or distance.
That is the case with the trainer's lightly raced five-year-old Aegean Dawn in today's Canaccord Genuity Handicap Hurdle, the finale at Ascot.
Aegean Dawn, a new recruit for Henderson following the retirement of Robert and Sally Alner last season, hacked up in a 23-runner conditional jockeys' race at Cheltenham a week ago, with the official winning distance, three and a half lengths, failing to accurately illustrate the authority of the victory.
Henderson, aware that the Alflora gelding is set to go up 21lb in the handicap, was obliged to run today.
In a perfect world, he might have wanted more time between races, and he could also have favoured a race over last week's distance, two miles and five furlongs. But there was no option than to back up quickly, over two miles.
David Bass, the capable claimer, takes the mount again, and his 5lb allowance will negate what he is giving away by being out of the handicap.
On the face of it, Aegean Dawn looks a handicap snip, but I fear that at the distance there will be others which also have major claims.
Mille Chief was favourite for last season's Triumph Hurdle before he went wrong, and his fifth to Nearby in a handicap hurdle at Aintree last month (off today's 136 mark) was a promising start to the campaign, particularly as he appeared to be going well when hampered four out.
Alan King, whose horses are back in form, missed Cheltenham's Greatwood Hurdle last Sunday in order to take in this Ascot contest with the talented four-year-old. King also runs Tuanku, which will be having his first outing over jumps in 714 days, though he has been kept fit by running recently on the Flat.
Henderson is regarded in certain quarters as the value alternative (in betting terms) to champion Paul Nicholls this season.
The Master of Seven Barrows certainly has plenty of ammunition to back an assault on the title. He has defending Champion Hurdler Binocular, which is scheduled to step out in Newcastle's Fighting Fifth Hurdle a week tomorrow, and Zaynar, which could well make it back-to-back wins in tomorrow's Coral Hurdle.
Also still to come are the Henderson-trained Punchestowns, which will attempt to fulfil the great potential he displayed earlier in his career, and Punjabi, a former Champion Hurdler which looks certain to make his mark in the novice chasing arena. He has a host of other rising stars as well.
Meanwhile, there are still a couple of major international races on the Flat to be run, and connections of Snow Fairy, a recent winner in Kyoto, have declined an invitation to run in the Japan Cup and have opted to run her in either the Hong Kong Cup or Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin next month. Trainer Ed Dunlop will decide the target closer the scheduled December 12 race day. (© Daily Telegraph, London)