Magazine article The Spectator

A Cracking Day

Magazine article The Spectator

A Cracking Day

Article excerpt

When the alarm went off in my Bonn hotel room at 3.50 a.m. British time last Saturday there were two choices. On a day of few flights there was the sensible one: turn over, go back to sleep and catch a later plane. And there was the alternative: jump out of bed in time to make the airport check-in at 4.50 and so get to Kempton for Racing Post Chase day.

There was a moment of doubt when the soap slipped in a shower cubicle so economically designed that only a ballettrained dwarf could have successfully attempted retrieval without the injury I incurred. But one image maintained my resolve: the memory of a gleaming-eyed Nicky Henderson darting round the inside of his indoor ring one recent morning at Seven Barrows as a stream of Cheltenham hopefuls jogged athletically past. Kempton's last jumping meeting of the season was to be the final prep for long-time Henderson's Triumph Hurdle favourite Katarino and for his French-bred mare Makounji as well as the seasonal debut for Robin Dickin's Kadastrof, and that made attendance a must.

The Henderson-Fitzgerald team who had landed a four-timer at Kempton on Boxing Day proved unstoppable, winning not only with those two but with Premier Generation too, though not at cumulative odds which will cover my chiropractor's bill. It clinched the Kempton trainers' challenge prize for the season for Nicky Henderson, earning him his own weight of 12st 31b in Ruinart champagne. Though I can testify to the superb quality of Diana Henderson's full-works breakfasts at Seven Barrows, I am amazed that he could weigh in so well. You have only to watch the Henderson training operation for an hour to wonder at how much nervous energy is expended. The man never walks when he can run, never sits when he can stride about and even when he does sit down has a telephone glued to his ear. Did the sponsors check his waistline for saddlecloth weights?

Katarino was truly impressive. Scarlet Pimpernel had looked the likely winner of a hot Newbury hurdle on his previous run before shedding his rider at the last and he cruised up to Katarino two out looking full of running. Katarino had been 105 days off the racecourse, thanks to the odd runny nose, and it looked like the kind of contest he could do without. But when Mick Fitzgerald engaged the extra gears he went clear in the style of a champion. His trainer said afterwards `He's had a good blow. He'll be an awful lot sharper for today.' Remembering that Katarino comprehensively beat Simply Gifted at Cheltenham earlier in the season and that Simply Gifted won impressively at Haydock last Saturday,

I will look no further for the winner of this year's Triumph Hurdle. As one of his training rivals conceded to me, `There is no better Cheltenham trainer than Nicky Henderson', meaning that no one can better time the preparation of their candidates for the big meeting. …

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