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Nicholls making most of rivals’ misfortune in bid for championship

| 26.01.2014

After Nicky Henderson emphatically regained the trainer’s championship last season following a 26-year wait  he published a book called ‘Henderson’s Heroes’.

It was a personal tribute to stable stars Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Bobs Worth, Long Run and the other horses that helped him rise to the top of the pile once more

His publishers, the Racing Post, could have been forgiven for thinking another print run would be required after this campaign.

The racing gods had other ideas.

Such was the strength and depth of the Seven Barrows arsenal that as soon as the 2012/13 season had finished Henderson was installed as long odds-on favourite to defend his crown.

However, a series of unfortunate injuries, setbacks and several big pots won by his rejuvenated rival Paul Nicholls has turned the table in dramatic fashion.

Henderson can now be backed at 5/4.

First, last year’s ultra-impressive Racing Post Arkle winner Simonsig was ruled out for the season after developing a splint on his near-fore.

Then disaster struck as the biggest draw in the National Hunt game, the unbeaten chaser Sprinter Sacre, was pulled up after two flights on his seasonal reappearance in the Desert Orchid Chase.

Henderson’s ‘Black Aeroplane’ is now said to be getting back to his brilliant self. However, what was a price of 1/5 to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown before his comeback is now 1/2 as doubts continue to linger and Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy makes hay in his absence.

Adding to the woe was a desperate performance by last year’s Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth on his first outing of the season in the Betfair Chase and two runs from Long Run that suggest that the old warrior is no longer a force to be reckoned with.

Although Bobs Worth has regained favouritism for the showpiece in March thanks to an excellent victory in the Lexus Chase much damage had already been inflicted with a stream of high-profile wins from Henderson’s only realistic challenger Nicholls.

The master of Ditcheat won the championship for seven consecutive years before last and is now as short as 4/7 to bring the title back to Somerset again.

Siviniaco Conti’s battling success in the King George plus Hinterland’s impressive win in the Racing Post Chase have plumped Nicholls’ prize money for the season to £1,491,030 building a healthy lead on Henderson who has just passed the £1m mark.

Henderson is already on record as saying he feels he will need to win the Crabbie’s Grand National to be in with a chance and with the new sponsors setting the prize fund at over £1m for the first time in its 167-year history a victory in the most famous race of them all would almost certainly, as it has in recent times, be significant.

Obviously with the Cheltenham and Aintree still to come the majority of the big pots are still there to be won but sympathy has to go out to both Henderson and those who steamed into the saddler to make it consecutive championships at the beginning of the campaign.

What is for certain is that whoever ends up winning wining this year may think twice about writing a book about it.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Sam Foster