Record-breaking trainer Henderson on saving his sight and career

‘Finally I can see how good my horses really are!’: Record-breaking Festival trainer Nicky Henderson feared his deteriorating eyesight might end his career… now after life-changing treatment he hopes to watch Constitution Hill claim glory

  • Henderson’s 72 wins at Cheltenham Festival is the most for a British trainer 
  • He is seeking a remarkable ninth win in Champion Hurdle with Constitution Hill 
  • He feared his deteriorating eyesight might end his distinguished 45-year career 

Last year six-time champion trainer Nicky Henderson feared deteriorating eyesight might end his distinguished 45-year career, but life-changing treatment means this week he will see more clearly than he could have dreamed if Constitution Hill is the wonder horse some believe.

Unbeaten in five races, including a 22-length win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Constitution Hill has yet to meet a rival who can lay a glove on him, including winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle and Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle this season.

He faces what looks like his greatest test yet when he takes on the Willie Mullins-trained Irish Champion Hurdle winner State Man but he is still 1-3 favourite to give Henderson a remarkable ninth win in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

The man Henderson, whose 72 Festival wins is the most for a British trainer, has to thank for being able to observe clearly what unfolds is ophthalmic surgeon Robin Hamilton, whose intervention resurrected the trainer’s vision.

‘The one thing it made no difference to was training horses,’ said Henderson. ‘I could always walk into a horse’s stable and see it completely as a picture, things like if it had put on or lost weight.

Nicky Henderson seeking a remarkable ninth win in Champion Hurdle with Constitution Hill

‘But I did fear it could end my career. My file had been round the world. When I went to Robin Hamilton I said, “Please can anybody just do something”. Half an hour later he was playing around with knives and things.

‘Of course it has changed things. So much so that I can stand on top of that hill out there, which is a great view, and see the world. Before, I couldn’t tell you the difference between the sky and the land — it was all a blur.

‘With my right eye I still can’t read the first letter on the [optician’s] board and that’s is a great big A! But with my left eye I’m going down to the fourth row. Before, by row two I’d had it.

‘You didn’t know if it was going to continue to deteriorate and there was going to be a point when I would have to say I cannot do this any more. Now we are cracking on into antiquity. These horses are going to keep us going for a bit as well.’

These horses’ also include a back-to-form Shishkin, who is odds-on favourite for Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, and 2020 Champion Hurdle winner Epatante, who will run in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle. There is Jonbon, who is disputing favouritism for Tuesday’s Arkle Novices’ Hurdle, while Marie’s Rock, the 2022 Mares’ Hurdle winner, will either try to defend her crown or step up in distance for Thursday’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

Henderson feared deteriorating eyesight might end his distinguished 45-year career

But it is Constitution Hill who has captured the imagination. Nico de Boinville’s mount is a rare combination of outrageous talent and ultra-relaxed temperament.

The gelding’s demeanour is so laid-back that, not long after he arrived in the stable after being raised and sold by Barry Geraghty, Henderson was phoning his ex-stable jockey questioning what he had sold him.

‘Walking and trotting he got lapped,’ said the trainer. ‘Cantering, he wouldn’t give you any idea he had any talent. So one morning we put a rider on him and said for Christ’s sake would you give this thing a bit of a wake-up to see if it is any good.

‘All of a sudden it came up the hill on its own! We weren’t quite sure what had happened. He was literally a furlong in front of the other two that he had set off with and the rider wasn’t exactly pushing him.

‘Constitution Hill has a huge amount of ability but his most potent weapon is that he channels it in the right direction. It’s his mind which sets him apart. He’s so uncomplicated. He eats, sleeps and works.

‘If things get really bad there will be a sign here saying £10 for a ride on Constitution Hill! You could have your picture taken on him like a donkey on Brighton beach.’

Source: Read Full Article