Confusion reigned at the start of the Huntingdon meeting on Sunday when 2019 Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills enjoyed a ride.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old boy was supposed to make his hunting debut, on his first jump start in 964 days.
After making a successful return to the flat in September, Henderson was keen to get him started on the fences, where he faced an uphill battle against Chris Gordon’s No Risk, who had already scored a victory over the biggest obstacles to his name.
But Gordon had made no secret of the fact that he was slightly concerned about the speed of the ground for his charge and that he would walk the track before running.
Upon his return, Gordon announced that he was happy enough to let NoRisk try his luck. However, just when the two jockeys were due to mount, Gordon had second thoughts and pulled his rider out.
“Chris had said yesterday that if it was fast he might not race because he hadn’t raced at Cheltenham last time. We were always going to race. It’s very difficult and we all get cold feet sometimes because the horse comes first,” says Henderson.
“He would handle a fast pitch and he did everything right at home. He had a flat run just because he had time off and he earned it.
“The problem is he gets a penalty and where do you go next when he’s rated 150? I can’t find a race for Jonbon before the Henry VIII. There are several all rated in the 150s. They cannot race in a two-mile novice handicap and there are no two-mile novice pursuits.
“I’m sad to say that the system is making it difficult for us. He has to enter a novice pursuit with a penalty. He gets a lot of prizes, but he has no experience. He has to enter another novice pursuit. with 150 horses rated giving them six or seven pounds.
“The cat doesn’t have as much cream as you think because that gave us a dilemma. There was a race at Warwick on Tuesday and I entered him in case that happened.
“To be fair, the owners group had Stage Star. You can’t expect them to race two, but it will happen soon.
He continued: “His one big weapon is his jumping because he was a better hurdler than a flat horse and I think he could easily be a better hunter than a hurdler. His training on the fences has been fantastic.
“In the good old days walkovers happened because you didn’t know what was going on, but now you have this transparency in the inputs that it really can’t happen, but we always knew it was going to be a two-man race horses.
“There’s a two mile race at Kempton Park in November, but again we need ground. There are so few races.
“I spoke to the BHA. It’s no one’s fault that there are only two riders, it was only because of the pitch and no other reason.”