Grand National ‘the biggest of the lot’ – Henderson
Nicky Henderson counted six entries amongst his hopefuls for the 2021 Randox Health Grand National as the Seven Barrows supremo admitted the Aintree spectacular remains the biggest prize in jumps racing.
Henderson has been training horses for four decades but the Grand National ranks as the leading omission from his glittering CV.
Dual winner Tiger Roll headed the 106 entries revealed last week for the Aintree showpiece on April 10th, while Henderson pin-points Ok Corral and Beware The Bear as his main hopes.
‘The biggest of the lot’
Henderson started training in 1978 having been assistant to the illustrious Fred Winter previously. His list of achievements matches almost anything his peers can claim but the Grand National remains elusive.
His very first contender was in 1979 with Zongalero and it turned out to be something of a false dawn as he finished second behind Rubustic. That, so far, remains Henderson’s closest shave in terms of winning the Aintree marathon.
The Tsarevich also finished second to Maori Venture in 1987 and, despite the long and continuing famine, Henderson’s desire for Aintree glory remains intact.
“It’s the race isn’t it? It’s the biggest of the lot,” he said. “We’ve been involved in it for years and there is something very special about it – it’s very historic and the whole meeting has a terrific atmosphere.
“My whole life has revolved around National Hunt racing so, not surprisingly, winning the Grand National would be very special.”
National success proves elusive
It’s not just at Aintree where Henderson has found Grand National success out of reach. The Seven Barrows handler has failed in his quests for Welsh, Scottish and Irish Grand National glory too, leaving his heavily-laden trophy cabinet bereft of any of the recognised ‘major Grand Nationals’.
With 68 Cheltenham Festival winners on this record and victories in almost every Grade 1 prize British jumps racing has to offer, Henderson concedes Aintree glory would be the icing on the cake.
“We’ve been lucky in most races, everything has fallen into line apart from in the Nationals,” he added.
“We managed the American one last year but that’s a bit of a fudge over two miles and five furlongs. If you’re going to win any I’d rather have Aintree.”
Same again for leading duo
Beware The Bear won the 2019 Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and was considered a leading player for the National last spring prior to the abandonment of the Aintree meeting.
Ok Corral has some excellent winning form in staying chases and is again pointing firmly towards Merseyside in April. He races in the iconic JP McManus-hoops and they are leading the Henderson challenge in 2021, while they could be joined by any of a quartet that includes Pym, Valtor, Gold Present and 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Santini.
For now, Henderson admits the last-named may have to wait for his Aintree opportunity.
“The two most likely to run are Beware The Bear and Ok Corral, who are the two that were due to run in it last year. They are being aimed primarily at Aintree,” Henderson added.
“There is no doubt that one day this is where Santini will go, but the objective this year is Cheltenham and he wouldn’t do both. He is there as an alternative in case anything goes wrong before then. It’s a big possibility next year for him and I do think he’d be suited by the race.”