Horse Racing

Matt Chapman reflects on the jump season and discusses what the shutdown means for Pinatubo and Nicky Henderson

PINATUBO is oblivious to Coronavirus. He doesn’t cough. He has no nasal discharge. He just wants to run. But when he can run no-one knows.

So at the moment last season’s European champion two-year-old is isolated at the sensational Charlie Appleby’s salubrious Moulton Paddocks stables in Newmarket. Like us, all he can do is wait.

Of course in normal circumstances we would be seeing Pinatubo on May 2, Qipco 2000 Guineas day, a race for which he has been ante-post favourite since those devastating juvenile wins which saw him dominate the National Stakes in Ireland and the Dewhurst at Newmarket.

An unbeaten son of Shamardal, Pinatubo was recognized as the highest-rated European champion two-year-old in twenty five years after six successive wins in 2019. His rating of 128 is two pounds higher than Frankel was ranked in 2010 and puts him ten pounds clear of his nearest Guineas rivals and fellow group 1 winners Earthlight and Kameko.

Coronavirus threatens to ruin the career of Pinatubo. It puts at risk his chance to go down as one of the greats of the turf. Of course in the bigger picture that is all irrelevant. But in the racing bubble it’s devastating.

It’s not just Pinatubo who must wait.

This Saturday, April 4, Tiger Roll would have bid to land his third consecutive Randox Health Grand National at Aintree. Having just turned ten, some would argue Tiger Roll could have been at his absolute peak. However, in 2021 those same people might equally say age could be finally catching up with him. It’s tough for Tiger Roll.

Amid all the mayhem over the last few weeks, Brian Hughes has become champion jumps jockey for the first time. Former title holder Richard Johnson has done what any true star would do and publicly congratulated him. But I doubt many others have. So well done Brian.

Hughes was nineteen clear of Johnson when racing stopped, and was on the brink of becoming the first Northern-based champion jumps jockey since Jonjo O’Neill forty years ago.

While there is an acceptance that he has earned the title on merit after an eleven-month campaign – the 2019-20 National Hunt season was due to end on April 25 – the rider clearly would have desired to have landed his crown in different circumstances.

“It’s frustrating from a personal point of view because you are riding to finish the season and there was some good racing to come,” said Hughes. “But in the global scale of things it is not every important to other people as their lives are at stake.”

Nicky Henderson is effectively champion jumps trainer for a sixth time, although he is not celebrating yet!

“I don’t think the BHA has made it official yet but obviously if it is made official I will be delighted albeit in rather unsatisfactory circumstances,” Henderson told me.

“We are ticking over and there is plenty to do – we have a batch of four-year-old bumper horses ready to run. One of the problems we have had has been the cold weather at night. We haven’t been able to turn horses out as we would like.”

The loss of the Grand National is a real blow to Henderson, who thought he had his best ever chance of breaking his hoodoo by winning the world’s most famous race for the first time.

“This was going to be my year,” Henderson said. “Ok Corral, Beware The Bear and Valtor all had great preps and were my best chances for years. I have always loved Aintree.”

Henderson reported star chaser Altior back in rude health having missed the Champion Chase. He added: “Altior is not doing anything – but he’s healthy and the plan is to have him in the Tingle Creek at the end of the year.

“His season has been very, very frustrating. We all know what happened early on at Ascot against Cyrname, and we banjaxed him. It was as much our own fault as anyone else. We got him back for the Game Spirit which was great and then we were all set for a dust up at Cheltenham and he got the splint three days before.

“When the horse (Politologue) Altior has always beaten goes and wins the Champion Chase it’s very hard to take.

“Then again we have had a great season with Epatante who was brilliant in the Champion Hurdle for JP McManus who had lost his last two Champion Hurdle winners for different reasons, and Champ and Shishkin were very good as well. Shishkin will probably go chasing.”

And one horse for the future Hendo? “Angels Breath will be back and was as good as anything before getting injured.”

Be safe everyone.


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top