Horse Racing: Testing course conditions a key concern for Henderson

Trainer Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre.Trainer Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre.
Trainer Nicky Henderson with Sprinter Sacre.
NICKY Henderson will delay Sprinter Sacre’s participation in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase “until the last possible moment”.

The brilliant nine-year-old has not been seen in competitive action since suffering a well-documented heart problem at Kempton in December 2013, but connections are keen to see him return to the fray at Ascot on Saturday.

Henderson is, however, concerned about running his stable star in ultra-testing conditions.

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He said: “We’ll have to leave it until the last possible moment. I’d like to leave it until Saturday morning.

“We have to declare on Thursday morning, which is a bore, as it doesn’t give us the luxury of seeing what the weather is going to do on Thursday and Friday.

“I’m desperately keen to try and run him this weekend, I must admit, but the forecast at the moment is horrific and we’re just starting to get a bit nervous about it.”

Henderson warned Sprinter Sacre is very unlikely to line up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival if he does not run beforehand.

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Connections are wary that the ground is unlikely to be any more suitable if he is held back for the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on February 7.

The Seven Barrows trainer added: “You could say you’d wait for the Game Spirit, but what are the chances of getting better ground?

“This weather isn’t going to be any better next week, or the week after, and the Game Spirit is at the beginning of February.

Asked whether he could go straight to Cheltenham, Henderson said: “No. He’d need a run. I think he has to have a run.

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“You can do that (go straight to Cheltenham), but he hasn’t had a run since the issue at Kempton.

“I think he’s got to have a race to give himself the belief that everything is 100 per cent.

“With his work at home, I’m sure it is.”

Even-money, ante-post favourite Faugheen heads 23 entries for Cheltenham’s Stan James Champion Hurdle, the highlight on the opening day of the Festival on March 10.

Among Willie Mullins’ six other entries is Hurricane Fly, the winner in 2011 and 2013, while last year’s hero Jezki, from Jessica Harrington’s stable, also features. Mullins also has Annie Power, Vautour, Un De Sceaux, Arctic Fire and Diakali still engaged at this stage.

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The 12-strong Irish-trained entry also features last season’s JCB Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll, trained by Gordon Elliott, and Kitten Rock from Edward O’Grady’s stable, who wears the JP McManus colours of Jezki.

The Irish-trained entry is completed by Colin Bowe’s Little King Robin and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Plinth.

The New One, second favourite in the ante-post market, will try to improve upon his third last term, when he finished with a flourish after being badly hampered. Vaniteux’s trainer Henderson also has Sign Of A Victory as the Seven Barrows trainer goes for a sixth success in this race.

Paul Nicholls is represented by Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Irving and Calipto, while John Ferguson has put in Purple Bay.