Nicky Henderson remains puzzled by the Christmas defeats suffered by a couple of his stars, saying on Wednesday that further tests had failed to pinpoint any reason why Altior and Epatante should have run below form. However the trainer reported that Altior at least appeared to be in good spirits after his race on Sunday, and insisted he would “certainly not” be closing his Seven Barrows stable.
“Altior is fresh and bright and well, and thank God for that,” Henderson said. “I’ll hope I’ll have him ready for the Game Spirit in February and we’ll take it from there.”
The trainer had said on Monday that a post-race scope of Altior had yielded “reason to continue investigating”. But those investigations have so far proved inconclusive and Henderson’s principal feeling at the moment is one of relief that he elected to miss the Tingle Creek on a more testing surface at the start of the month.
“He was unconscious for three weeks after that Ascot race last year. If I’d run him at Sandown in the Tingle Creek, he’d still be unconscious now. He got beaten at Kempton but I haven’t got him unconscious.”
Of Epatante, second at odds of 1-5 in the Christmas Hurdle, Henderson said: “Again, I can’t tell you anything new. There’s nothing obvious. We’re looking at everything and anything. I’ve got ideas but they’re only little ideas.
“I very much doubt she’ll run before the Champion Hurdle. We’ll just let this go by, get over it, get through it.
“I’ve said, some of our horses haven’t been 100%. But over the weekend, they were pretty good overall. Epatante was a big bump, that was very disappointing. Altior, I wasn’t quite sure where we were. But the others, we had a very good weekend.
“We’re not closing down, like was reported. We certainly are not. The horses are in good form, the ground is horrific, there’s no Cheltenham on Friday so it’s a good opportunity to probably take a little breather for 10 days.”
Looking ahead to the Lanzarote fixture at Kempton a week on Saturday, Henderson added: “Oh God, we’ll have plenty for that. We had a winner yesterday and two seconds at Newbury. What we’re running is running well.”
While Henderson maintains that all is basically well at his yard, it is not uncommon for jumps trainers to go through quiet spells in midwinter. Gordon Elliott has told the Racing Post of his plans to “give them all a few easy days and regroup in the new year”, apparently a response to Abacadabras having mucus in his lungs after being well beaten at Leopardstown this week.
Thursday’s horse racing tips
Tips by Chris Cook
12.16 Aheadfullofdreams 12.50 Hunny Moon 1.20 Khairagash (nb) 1.50 Aubusson 2.25 Stung For Cash 2.55 Haldon Hill (nap) 3.25 Shearer
12.25 Recon Mission 1.00 Oslo 1.30 Thapa Vic 2.00 Via Serendipity 2.35 Amber Island 3.05 Vunipola 3.35 Catapult
2.15 Sea La Rosa 2.50 Highly Dancer 3.20 Gunmetal 3.50 The Mackem Torpedo 4.20 Vive La Difference 4.50 Rockley Point 5.20 Rail Dancer 5.50 Jazzy Socks
Uttoxeter Abandoned because of waterlogging
A number of Lambourn stables have been short of winners at various stages of the autumn and Harry Whittington stopped having runners for a fortnight before Christmas. But Henderson doubted whether there was any kind of bug “doing the rounds”.
“We’re two miles away from there. Whatever’s happening in Lambourn can’t affect me and I can’t affect them. We’re totally separate. We’re proud of Lambourn but the only neighbours I’ve got are B Hills and Henry Candy. We’re miles away from another National Hunt yard.”
He added that Champ and Buveur D’Air were training well ahead of possible reappearances in the Cotswold Chase and the Contenders Hurdle respectively.