I was interested to read Tom Kerr’s article in Friday’s Racing Post about how things have changed in the last 12 months for trainer Colin Tizzard. While he’s not exactly having a terrible time of it, he is some way down on his performances of a year ago, when Thistlecrack looked like he had the world at his feet and with Cue Card and Native River he appeared to have prospects of the first three home in the Gold Cup. With Fox Norton, Finian’s Oscar and others playing supporting roles and the Potts’s splashing the cash, the Tizzards were the coming force in the training ranks.
12 months on, things look very different. A stellar Cheltenham and strong finish to the season allowed Nicky Henderson to steal up somewhat on the blindside and overhaul Paul Nicholls to win his fourth championship.
This season Henderson has hit the front much earlier. He had just the four winners yesterday. Mr Whipped won the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Warwick, while Henderson celebrated his wedding day with a Kempton hurdle treble including William Henry’s success in the Lanzarote Hurdle and even the enigmatic Jenkins winning the concluding handicap hurdle. He now leads Nicholls by almost £100,000 and appears to be easing away into the distance. And when you consider the firepower Henderson has for Cheltenham, he could have a fifth trainers title wrapped up before Aintree.
Just for the big races, he has the odds on favourite for the Champion Hurdle (current champion Buveur D’Air), the favourite for the Gold Cup (Might Bite) and the favourite for the Champion Chase (Altior). For other big races at the Festival he has the two favourites for the Triumph Hurdle (Apple’s Shakira and We Have A Dream), and several others with big chances including Claimantakinforgan (Supreme Novices), Brain Power (Arkle), Top Notch (Ryanair), L’Ami Serge (Stayers), On The Blind Side (Albert Bartlett) and Whisper (also in the Gold Cup). And I’d say almost certainly there will be other Henderson winners at the festival not mentioned in this list. Only Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot can compete with this firepower. The aforementioned Nicholls and Tizzard seem blown away domestically right now.
And with this strength at his disposal, you’d have to think the master of Seven Barrows has the trainer’s title to win at his pleasure over the next few years.
It is interesting how we always seem to see one trainer dominate. Since I’ve followed racing the National Hunt trainer’s title has been dominated by one trainer for several years followed by another. It really is about eras. Between 1988/89-2004/05 Martin Pipe won 12 of the 14 titles. Paul Nicholls won his first title in 2005/06 and then 10 of the next 11.
One of the interesting things about jump racing is while there are the very big owners, the trainers title tends to be won by a trainer with several prominent owners. Of all the horses listed above for Henderson, three are owned by Simon Munir & Isaac Souede, two by JP McManus and the other six by six different owners. How does it happen that one trainer gets so many top horses at once? It is hard to believe that Henderson has more money at his disposal than Nicholls or Tizzard? Are his bloodstock people better? Is it just luck? It must be more than luck.
In flat racing it is easy enough to see why Coolmore / Ballydoyle dominate, especially given their investment in super sire Galileo. But it is not so straightforward in jump racing, especially given the range of divisions for both hurdlers and chasers. Whatever the reason, Nicky Henderson is in the box seat, and looks like he could be there for years to come.