IF you go on to the BHA site to check available racehorse names, the name Non Runner comes up as available.
It would have been a rather amusing to have that name on the card last Saturday at Ascot as things disintegrated from hoping to see three quality Grade 1 Cheltenham winners in action, to cheering an 11-year-old handicapper chasing down a David Maxwell-ridden gelding in a two-horse race, on prime-time Saturday TV.
But as the fallout to the absences rumbled on, no one came out of the debacle with any credit. And of course, with live TV, everyone had an opinion.
Ascot clerk of the course Chris Stickels’ going reading showed little difference from Saturday to Friday. That same Friday, Nicky Henderson said it was lovely going. Yet on the Saturday on ITV Henderson said his going stick barely went in to the surface. And on TV, parts of the track were showing horses kicking the top off the surface.
Henderson then said on Sky Racing’s Racing Debate on Sunday that Stickels told him he had never seen it dry out so quickly overnight, but does some culpability lie here – why not over-water? No one would complain if it was too soft? Newbury faced the same dilemma yesterday.
There were pieces that did not add up and the language used was not a good idea for racing in creating headlines of an incendiary nature.
Henderson continued on the Racing Debate: “If Constitution Hill had run on that ground, in my opinion he would have been in his box for the rest of the year, wounded. It would have been stupid, suicidal, to run on that ground, and in the interest of horse welfare we should be banned for life if we had run.”
Jane Mangan made the point on the Nick Luck Podcast on Monday that the word “unsafe” used by Henderson should have been substituted by a more appropriate “unsuitable”.
Of course any horse can at any time do himself a lot of damage jumping obstacles, that’s jump racing. And more likely over fences.
Give thanks for horses like Summerghand on the flat. He ran 13 times in 2022 on going from ‘good to firm’ to ‘soft’, from Meydan in January to Lingfield in November.
Venetia Williams said that it was always likely that L’Homme Presse, who won on good to soft last year, but who had tendon injury before, would not run on the Ascot ground. And Alan King’s Edwardstone was another absentee.
A racecard was later shared on Twitter showing Brown Chamberlin won a Hennessy at Newbury in 1983, long before climate change, on officially firm going, Buck House won the Gerry Feilden on the same card.
Henderson’s record and history in the game is second to none. He got three Champion Hurdles out of the extremely fragile See You Then before many of those now criticising him were born.
But, in recent years, caution seems to take precedent and his previous ‘form’ saw him criticised for withdrawing Altior on the Friday evening before the Tingle Creek Chase in 2020 because he was concerned about the testing ground conditions at Sandown (officially soft). “He does not go in it. He’d probably win in it, but it’s what the damage will do to him and I’m not prepared to do that.”
Again he cited horse welfare as a reason after the horse had finished very tired at Ascot the previous season.
Different days, different courses, different horses, Henderson also ran Oscar Whisky in the same Ascot race a few years ago on officially good ground.
Horses are more likely to injure themselves when they exert themselves under pressure. If Constitution Hill is the monster he is reported to be by connections then he might have won easily without pressure on Saturday.
As my old neighbour used to say to silence any complaints ‘Doctors differ and patients die’. N. Henderson has trained more winners than me!
Whatever the end game, you certainly could take Henderson to task over his choice of words. He should show more responsibility in tempering his language.
If we keep seeing ‘horse welfare’ used by leading trainers as a reason not to run some horses, when others safely do, how does that sit in this era of scrutiny and perception?