Cheltenham: Henderson fire can help him have last laugh
The contrasting Festival histories of the two trainers who dominate the first big race of the week do not bode terribly well for the favourite, Go Native.
While Noel Meade has endured a macabre variety of misfortunes here, on his way to just three winners, Nicky Henderson is the most successful Cheltenham operator in the business, with 34.
But success for Go Native in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, where three of his 11 rivals are trained by Henderson, would comfortably redress any lingering sense of injustice in Meade's Co Meath stables.
Some may also find it in their hearts, however, to wish Henderson well — albeit he has dozens of other chances over the week. Whatever others thought of his humiliation last summer, even the hardest judges can presumably respect the way he has bounced back with the most prolific season of his career.
Henderson was prohibited from making entries for three months, and fined a record £40,000, after one of his horses — owned by the Queen — failed a drugs test. As an Establishment figure, Henderson discovered that justice being seen to be done is a double-edged imperative.
He claims to have dismissed the whole matter long ago, but the relentless form of his stable since may well reflect some injured renewal of focus and ambition.
“The whole thing got way out of control,” he admits. “The great thing is most people have forgotten all about it. I certainly have, 100 per cent. In my own mind, I never had a guilty conscience. I was just so relieved it was all over. The horses give me all the motivation I need. That's why it's really nice, what we've been doing this season - it's been the youth team. Hopefully, they're the pension.”
At 59, that remains a remote consideration. Indeed, with both favourites for the RSA Chase tomorrow, Henderson candidly hopes that he can soon break Paul Nicholls's monopoly on the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
And how about the trainers' championship, into the bargain? “I'm not really fussed about those kinds of things,” he insists. “We were very lucky, we've been there and done that [23 years ago]. I'm not saying you don't want to, of course you do. I want the best lot of horses I can have.”