Matt Chapman talks all things Nicky Henderson and the top care racehorses get in his latest column

Matt Chapman talks all things Nicky Henderson and the top care racehorses get in his latest column

December 22, 2018

Sometimes, amid the drama of racing politics and a constant worry those in power are keen to destroy the game by continually tinkering with the whip rules, I think many forget that at the end of the day we all enjoy this great sport because of our love of the horse.

And we do so much for horses.

For those anti horse-racing, it's also always worth remembering that without the Sport of Kings every equine beast that has run on a racetrack would never have been born. No life. No fun. Nothing.

Some think racehorses would be running about out in the wild if they weren't trained to race. That, of course, is not true.

And even if it was, anyone who believes horses in the wild have a better time than a racehorse is in cloud cuckoo land.

FESTIVE FEAST Buveur D'Air and Santini head formidable Boxing Day team for Nicky Henderson

It would be like saying a beggar on the street has a better life than Roman Abramovich.

There are two horses running this season that are classic examples of benefiting from pure horse love, namely Charbel and Brain Power.

I've been harsh on Charbel in the past, because for me he has underachieved. I've always known that was for medical reasons, but of course as far as not doing as well as he should that's irrelevant.

This season Charbel has been a revelation for the brilliant Kim Bailey, beating Cheltenham victor Baron Alco at Chepstow, before chasing home King George VI Chase hope Politologue at Ascot then being super gutsy to take the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.

Charbel's rejuvenation, though, has been far from simple.

Bailey told me: "After he fell at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase it was clear his back was hurting him. We got him X-rayed and it showed he had a kissing spine.

"That meant every time he was jumping his back was compressing and causing him pain. When he worked at home on the Flat it wasn't a problem, but jumping was a big issue.

"So we had an operation done which essentially cut the ligaments between various points of his back which makes them looser than they were before. That means the ligaments are in less control of the spine."

Bailey added: "Having done that Charbel went off to event rider Simon Lawrance. He had him for two months, starting him off by lunging in a pessoa (a device which encourages the horse to engage its hocks and work over the back so that the correct muscles are used and built up).

"The key was to get him used to bending his back, and his schooling was good. He then went off to another event rider, Lucy Jackson, who put him over more poles and to teach him not to worry about things.”

That is some effort by all concerned, and just imagine a horse in the wild with a bad back. There is no help for that horse. Racing should be proud of itself.

Brain Power is a similar story.

Behind the scenes…

It might surprise some, but for the first time in my career I had the treat this week of going to the Nicky Henderson stable.

I often only see Henderson at the races or functions, and it was fascinating to see another side of the champion handler.

Seven Barrows is close to a military operation, where everyone knows their job and understands to do as told. Henderson knows the form of his runners without referring to the internet. He’s living and breathing the game. This was a master at work.

I saw Might Bite and Buveur D’Air warming up for Kempton, and Santini was a huge beast who could win a Gold Cup one day. No doubt, though, the best moment was having a snap with Champion Chase hero Altior. It would have been rude not to – and he seemed to like me!

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone. And a festive Yeeehaaa with bells on!

A hugely talented horse trained by Nicky Henderson, Brain Power can work with Altior at home but has often failed to deliver on track.

He’s also had two recent falls at Ascot and Aintree as well as an unseated rider at Sandown.

Michael Buckley, who owns Brain Power, loves his horses and set about trying to help his trooper. Brain Power has also had a small operation for kissing spines as well as a wind operation.

Back over hurdles last time Brain Power landed the International at Cheltenham. He travelled strongly and stayed on nicely up the Cheltenham hill under Nico de Boinville.

I wanted to write about Charbel and Brain Power because they are two of many, many examples where the warriors in racing have been nursed to health like a family member.

And that’s what horses are – part of a caring family.

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