Henderson bullish over stable stars
NICKY Henderson paraded his latest generation of stars before the cameras at Seven Barrows early yesterday morning.
Here was Long Run, the champion steeplechaser, taught a memorable lesson by the evergreen Kauto Star at Haydock 11 days ago; and here was Binocular, a former champion hurdler, likewise beaten on his reappearance at Newcastle last weekend.
But while lesser animals in the yard continue in rampant form, its elite will always reserve their very best for Cheltenham in March.
Both Long Run and Binocular were beaten first time out last season also, but laid sufficient foundations to proceed to Grade One success at Kempton. And Henderson, who had opened his stable on behalf of the meeting's promoters, is satisfied they will defend their trophies in the King George VI Chase and Christmas Hurdle.
It must be said that Long Run could scarcely have endured a rougher comeback than Kauto Star gave him at Haydock. "But if he did have a hard race, he has come out of it very well indeed," Henderson said.
"You could go on dissecting the race as long as you like, but the fact is that he does get a bit rusty and he was too fresh in the early stages. Was his first run last season any better? It probably wasn't as good. And his jumping, until those two mistakes, was absolutely brilliant."
The mistakes in question were palpably provoked by the demands made by a super-fit Kauto Star, and Henderson did indicate that Long Run's rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, would ride a more patient race if the winner is again waiting for them at Kempton. Either way, he was thrilled by the way Long Run rallied for second after initially dropping away.
Certainly he retains every confidence in the horse's rider, whose amateur partnership with a horse owned by his father ultimately won over the most cynical punters last season.
Some, admittedly, felt that Waley-Cohen looked at least as rusty as his mount at Haydock.
"Sam's got a fantastic attitude," Henderson protested. "It's not that he doesn't care, but he's got a very cool head, and he's very positive. It certainly doesn't worry me one iota."
Just as Long Run's season works backwards from Cheltenham, so those who fancy Finian's Rainbow for the Queen Mother Champion Chase should not be too alarmed that he sits out his intended comeback at Sandown on Saturday. The horse is "not quite ready" and will probably now be targeted at Kempton on December 27.
In light of Finian's Rainbow's defection, Sizing Europe has shortened up as favourite for Saturday's two-mile Grade One and is the 11/8 market leader with Paddy Power.
As for Binocular, he has now been turned over at odds-on when reappearing in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle three years running. "He probably thinks we ought to try something different," Henderson said.
"But Overturn is a very hard horse to pass, and we met him at the very top of his game. Binocular will go to Kempton with exactly the same profile as last year. We're not early birds, everyone knows that. There's a long way to go."
Meanwhile, Colm Murphy has decided not to send Quito De La Roque over to Sandown for the Future Stars Chase on Friday.
The County Wexford-based handler is likely to keep the recent Down Royal Grade One winner nearer home for his next race, with the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on December 11 the probable target. (© Independent News Service)