Will Hayler swoons over Sprinter Sacre after a trip to Nicky Henderson's Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn
By Will Hayler, Seven Barrows. Last Updated: 27/11/12 5:31pm
Nicky Henderson with poster boy Sprinter Sacre
I've never had a poster of a racehorse on my wall, but if I did it would be Sprinter Sacre. If Nicky Henderson seemed a little prickly at first, the result of bossy photographers and freezing temperatures, a cuddle with Sprinter Sacre certainly seemed to perk him up.
If he was mine, I doubt he'd ever race again. I'd just go and stand at the entrance to his box and sigh.
He has the biggest, blackest front feet that I have ever seen on a horse and a handsome face that was made for posing. Long Run won't stand still when the photographers want him to. Sprinter Sacre, on the other hand, coyly turns his head and pricks his ears as if to say 'Would you like me from this angle?'.
These kind of promotional press trips get short shrift from some members of the media, but I could never tire of looking at Henderson's brilliant beasts.
The photographers ask him to pose with his possible Christmas Hurdle runners and Grandouet, Binocular and Darlan appear for a group shot. "Will Darlan run in the Christmas Hurdle?" asks one of them. "I don't even know if he will run this week," snaps back Henderson, the first of many times his exasperation with the weather becomes evident.
And so to the news. Bobs Worth will probably run in the Hennessy although he has been given an entry in Leopardstown's Lexus Chase over Christmas as a fall-back option.
Darlan probably won't run at Newcastle and probably wouldn't run even if the Fighting Fifth was moved to Newbury. He could run at Cheltenham a fortnight on Saturday against Grandouet, who is fine, but wouldn't run in the Christmas Hurdle against Binocular. If he doesn't run at Cheltenham, or Newcastle, or Newbury, he could run at Leopardstown over Christmas. Or not.
Riverside Theatre is on course to make his reappearance in the King George along with Long Run, who has come out fresh and well from Haydock, and Finian's Rainbow, who has given little clue as to what exactly went wrong when last of four at Ascot on Saturday.
The others? Simonsig worked well this morning and will be ready to run over fences in a fortnight's time. Sprinter Sacre, other than being generally magnificent, will run in the Tingle Creek Chase even if the ground is testing. Roberto Goldback is more likely to run over two and a half miles at Newbury on Friday than wait for the Hennessy 24 hours later.
The names of very good horses drip from his tongue, but the truth is that it hasn't been a tremendous start to the season for Henderson, trainers' title rival Paul Nicholls having already stolen a not-inconsiderable march in the standings.
"For whatever reason, our horses by and large don't seem to act on soft ground and as a result there is a lot of juggling to be done," reflects Henderson, in between chasing his Labrador dog away from a large plate of sausage sandwiches, an episode which makes me think about the dog who used to say 'sssausages' on That's Life.
"The least likely to go [to Kempton] for the Christmas Hurdle is Grandouet because the race comes too soon after Cheltenham and although anything is possible I don't think anything would stop me from running him at Cheltenham even if the going is soft," he says. As he talks, it's hard not to feel that to some extent, he is still getting it all sorted out in his own mind.
"Darlan could go for the Christmas Hurdle, but I can't see that JP would want two in that, so I've put him at Leopardstown as they sometimes get decent ground there.
"Binocular is the one we had in mind for Kempton and if all's going well he'll have a racecourse gallop and go there.
"There's Cash And Go to think about too but he'll probably go for the Ladbroke [at Ascot] while he still has half a chance in handicaps."
After a slightly hesitant start, Henderson is by now in full stride and apart from the weather it's all good news. Long Run has come out of his reappearance "fresher" than when second to Kauto Star at Haydock 12 months ago. Riverside Theatre, oblivious to the weather-related woes of his stablemates, gets a particularly positive bulletin as he is summoned to pose with his trainer for yet more photographs.
"Are you there, Riverside?" he shouts, but the horse doesn't answer. Not that good a trainer then. The original plan had been for Riverside Theatre to canter to Newbury on Sunday morning, but with the likely state of the ground being 'bog to frozen' that idea is likely to be shelved in favour of a spin around Kempton's Polytrack.
Finian's Rainbow remains a likely starter in the William Hill King George VI Chase too, despite his flop behind Captain Chris.
"It was always the plan and our first reaction is 'Yes, that is still what I would rather do rather than anything else'," says Henderson. "If you wait for something else on better ground, how long would you be waiting? When you have these kind of short days, it's not going to start drying up suddenly. We're stuck with it."
Ah yes, the weather. And the resulting soft ground. It had been at least 90 seconds since we last mentioned it. Poor Nicky. He was off to Newbury to walk the course. "I don't really know why, I can imagine what I am going to find."
Let's talk about something more positive. Sprinter Sacre takes on Sanctuaire in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday week. What a race that should be. Henderson lights up at the topic.
"We spent most of last season bemoaning the fact that we'd struggle to find something to give him a lead, then finally when a horse comes along, it's one like Sanctuaire who should not only give him a lead but prove hard enough to pass," he beams.
"It could be one of those great races and although he'll be keeping to the novice division for the time being, you can see Overturn making the two-mile division even more interesting when he joins in as well. These two-mile chases are going to get exciting."
And then we go back to the weather. It's time to go. Just one more look at Sprinter Sacre?