There are surprisingly few big trainers who are from the United Kingdom, with the majority tending to have emerged from Ireland over the years. Elsewhere on this site you can read about Paul Nicholls, who is based in Surrey, whilst Nicky Henderson is the other one that takes the fight to the Irish in the big meetings. Named Champion Trainer more than five times in his career, he is from a racing family and was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2020. As well as winning virtually every major jump racing event, Henderson has also trained more than a few flat racing winners during his illustrious career.
Nicholas John Henderson was born on the 10th of December in 1950. The son of Johnny Henderson, who was one of the founders of the Racecourse Holdings Trust, he was educated at Eton College before becoming a trainer in 1978. Before that he had been an amateur jockey and was the assistant trainer to Fred Winter for four years, gaining a lot of experience before going out on his own. Along with Willie Mullins, Henderson is one of the most successful ever trainers at the Cheltenham Festival and in 2006 he trained the winner of the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, an event named in honour of his father the year before.
Henderson’s career is one that isn’t without controversy. In 2009, the British Horseracing Authority found him guilty of breaching the Rules of Racing thanks to one of the mares that he was training for the Queen, Moonlit Path, failing a drugs test. He was fined £40,000 and banned from running horses for three months, but the fact that those months were during the flat racing season and he’s predominantly a jump racing jockey meant that he was caused very little inconvenience. As proof that this minor blemish on his copy book has done little to dampen his influence, he was awarded an OBE for services to horse racing in 2020.
It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that there are very few races in the world of National Hunt racing that haven’t seen Nicky Henderson in the Winners’ Enclosure at least once over the years. In fact, that only major race that he hasn’t won at the time of writing is the Grand National, which he missed out on with his very first entry in 1979 when Zongalero finished second. The Tsarevich also finished second eight years later, with a few places since then. Here is a look at the big name races that Nicky Henderson has trained the winner for on at least one occasion:
- Cheltenham Gold Cup
- Champion Hurdle
- Queen Mother Champion Chase
- Stayers’ Hurdle
- Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase
- King George VI Chase
- Ascot Chase
- Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil
- Queen Alexandra Stakes
- Ascot Stakes
There have been more than a few horses that have made their way through Nicky Henderson’s yard over the years, with the likes of Bacchanal, Remittance Man and Sprinter Sacre all being horses that won races for him at one point or another. Names such as Epatante, My Tent Or Yours and Altior will all be known to National Hunt lovers, having seen them improve and win under the guiding hand of Henderson. Here are three standout horses that he worked with:
Any horse that wins one of the big races for a trainer will be remembered fondly, but the horse that wins it for them for the first time will be thought of as extra special. So it is that Long Run was always going to make this list, being the horse that saw Nicky Henderson in the Winners’ Enclosure for the first time in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having won races in France and then a few novices chases, he shot to prominence in 2011 when he won the delayed King George VI Chase. A few months later and it was the Gold Cup that he added to his collection, before going on to win the King George VI Chase again in 2012.
Winning the Gold Cup once is an achievement in and of itself, but to win it for a second time is seen as proof that you know what you’re doing. With that in mind, the fact that Nicky Henderson was able to ease Bobs Worth through the early part of his career to a win in the Blue Riband event at the Cheltenham Festival should not be over-stated. The bay gelding won several novice hurdle events during the Festival before being moved up to novice chases. It was 2013 that saw him hit the big time, however, when the horse won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He died accidentally in the January of 2022 at the age of 16.
See You Then
There are any number of horses that we could’ve picked to represent Nicky Henderson’s success as a trainer, but See You Then proved his right to be the one we’ve chosen when he won the Champion Hurdle for the third successive year in 1987. An English bred horse, he took part in 15 hurdle events and won ten of them. The fact that he had suspect tendons throughout his racing career makes that achievement even more impressive, being one of just five horses that have won the event a hat-trick of times. That Henderson was able to get the best out of him in spite of his injury issues is testament to his training ability.