‘For a moment I thought this was going to be it’

 

Nicky Henderson expressed his disappointment after coming close to breaking his 44-year Grand National drought with Mister Coffey, who led for much of the race before eventually finishing eighth.

“I have to say for a moment I thought this was going to be it, which makes it all the harder really, but there you go,” said Henderson. “We know what this game is all about and we’ll have to come back and do it again next year. You can’t do much better than that. He deserved to finish in the first four for what he had done. He jumped from fence to fence and, like Nico said, you did sort of think you were going to get there, but not quite.”

Nico de Boinville, who rode Mister Coffey, had mixed emotions about the performance. “He gave me a fantastic spin and I’m absolutely delighted,” he said. “We can be really proud of him and he’s a true National type. Of course, you start to think when you’re crossing the road like that, but hey-ho it wasn’t to be.”

Vanillier, ridden by Sean Flanagan, finished second, two and a quarter lengths behind the winner, Corach Rambler. Flanagan commented on the race, saying, “I jumped a little slow early and I probably got further back than I wanted to be. He’s a really strong stayer and probably didn’t go forward early enough. But he stayed all the way to the line and jumped really well. I was very happy with him.”

Noble Yeats, defending champion and carrying a 19lb higher mark, ran a gallant race to finish in fourth place, just behind Gaillard Du Mesnil, trained by Willie Mullins. Owner Robert Waley-Cohen had no complaints about Noble Yeats’ performance, stating, “He was carrying an enormous amount of weight and I have absolutely no complaints about how he ran. I thought he finished off really strong, but he had 19lb more than last year and second topweight.”

 

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‘She’s a bit special’ – festival favourite Luccia’s emphatic success gives connections Supreme problem.

Luccia’s victory in the Listed 2m12f novice hurdle solidified her status as the overwhelming favorite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. However, trainer Nicky Henderson was impressed by Luccia’s performance, and he did not rule out a run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The five-year-old missed out on an intended engagement in the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle last month but was sent off the 8-13 favorite to keep her unbeaten record. She had won a similar contest at Newbury on her hurdles debut in late November.

Under Nico de Boinville, Luccia breezed into contention in the final stretch and, despite an error at the finish, powered to an 11-length victory. For the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, she was generally trimmed to 7-4 from 5-2.

Henderson said: “You had to be impressed with her. She’s had a few hiccups since she won at Newbury, but that was exactly what we wanted before Cheltenham. She was a bit untidy at the last, but apart from that her jumping was great.

“She had a horrible incident last year where we very nearly lost her. It’s fantastic for Paul [Sandy, owner]. She’s a homebred and it’s exciting. She’s a bit special.”

De Boinville gave Henderson a hint that Henderson might like the Supreme because of Luccia’s success. For a race that the trainer and jockey won last year with superstar Constitution Hill, she is the best-priced bet at 12-1.

“I would favour the mares’ race as it looks as if she’d have an outstanding chance in that,” said Henderson. “I think she would have a chance in the Supreme and Nico said to run her there, so he must have been impressed.

“She wouldn’t be out of place in that, but we’ll see. There are a few weeks until then. I’d favour the mares’ race.”

Luccia led a treble for Henderson, who also won the Pertemps Hurdle qualifier with Walking On Air. The Carpenter made a winning start for the trainer in the 2m212f novice hurdle despite missing 701 days.

Walking On Air was introduced at 10-1 for the Pertemps Final. Henderson said: “We’ve now got a strong team for the Pertemps, with the King’s Steal A March, Captain Morgs and a few more that might go. Walking On Air will definitely go. That was much better from him and he’ll be a fine, proper three-mile chaser next season.”

After returning to winning ways with a front-running victory in the Listed 3m mares’ chase, Pink Legend, the Mares’ Chase runner-up from the previous season, was lowered to a general odds of 25-1 (from 50) for this year’s event.

Trainer Venetia Williams told Racing TV: “I’m really delighted. Charlie [Deutsch, jockey] said as soon as she jumped off she was straight into the bridle and was off.

“It was her first time back over three miles for a while but she really enjoyed the tempo.”

 

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Jumps icon Nicky Henderson calls affordability checks ‘terrifying and ridiculous’.

Jumps legend Nicky Henderson is the latest high-profile figure to condemn the intrusive affordability checks, which have the potential to cost British racing millions of pounds. Henderson has characterised the practices as irrational and called them lunacy.

John Gosden, Henderson’s Flat counterpart, recently expressed his concerns that the checks would force people to bet on the black market, which “would spell disaster” for betting and racing.

That was followed this week by Harry Herbert, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s well-connected racing manager, saying the industry could be “ripped to pieces” by the checks. The checks involve bookmakers asking punters for bank statements and other financial information under pressure from the Gambling Commission.

Before the government’s long-awaited gambling review was released, the industry regulator was widely criticised for successfully implementing the contentious checks.

Henderson, a six-time champion trainer who has devoted much of his life to the sport, has now entered the discussion, slamming the checks and empathising with those impacted.

He told the Racing Post: “It’s ridiculous and appears to be an invasion of privacy. There’s no doubt it’s having a drastic impact on punters and I have every sympathy with them. I’m in total agreement with what everyone has been saying.

“The money people bet on racing flows back into the sport, so we’re all losers in this. It doesn’t bear thinking about the dangers of the black market, but that’s where punters could be driven back to.

“I’ve no experience of this because I don’t bet and nobody has ever asked me for statements, but that’s not the point and I wouldn’t like it if I was asked for all sorts of information and had to go through that examination before having a bet.”

Henderson, whose late father Johnny is credited with saving Cheltenham from redevelopers in the 1960s, is behind some of the biggest names in jump racing, like Sprinter Sacre, a powerful chaser, and Constitution Hill, the most recent pin-up boy.

He backs campaigns for responsible gambling, but he thinks that the new methods for determining a person’s ability to bet go too far.

“The damage it could do is really frightening,” he added. “We’ve got enough problems on our hands in the industry and don’t need this. It’s lunacy, sheer lunacy. I read what John Gosden and Harry Herbert have said in the Racing Post and go along with it – like everyone would. It’s absolutely crackers and it’s terrifying to think of the damage to racing’s finances.

“You can’t blame punters – I wouldn’t want to go through that and I don’t see why they should. There is a point in preventing people from getting into trouble and that’s very important. But, at the same time, these checks and what they’ll lead to are terrifying.”

When it is released in the coming weeks, it is anticipated that the government’s long-delayed gambling review white paper will include suggestions regarding affordability checks.

Paul Scully, the minister in charge of gambling, indicated that he was in favor of “frictionless” checks to assist in preventing people from suffering harm from gambling. He also stated that he did not believe that the government or the Gambling Commission had the authority to tell people how much they could afford to gamble.

Scully met with members of the Horseracing Bettors Forum (HBF) this week to talk about restrictions and a minimum bet guarantee, as well as affordability checks and their impact on punters and the horse racing industry.

Benjamin Fellows, on behalf of the HBF, said: “We felt it was a constructive meeting and the tone echoed that of his speech at the Betting and Gaming Council AGM last week.

“We welcomed the opportunity to engage with the minister and to seek that horseracing bettors’ interests are appropriately considered in the forthcoming white paper. We hope that the dialogue will continue following the white paper’s publication.”

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