English jumps trainer Nicky Henderson is admired by his jockeys for fronting up when races go badly

Paris (AFP) - Legendary English trainer Nicky Henderson’s godfather was Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and he would have been rightly proud of his godson’s generalship in training 72 Cheltenham Festival winners.

The doyen of jumps trainers looks well placed to add to his tally on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s Festival, with the unbeaten Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle feature race.

If successful, it would give 72-year-old Henderson a record-extending ninth win in the race which began with See You Then, which won the first of his three in 1985.

Henderson – whose late father Johnny was aide-de-camp to Montgomery, or ‘Monty’ as he was popularly known – had racing coursing through his veins from an early age.

He tried his hand at banking after leaving Eton but he quickly realised it was not for him.

“I used to sit there reading The Sporting Life with the outside pages of the Financial Times wrapped round to avoid detection,” he told the Racing Post in 2020.

“But with just my one A-Level in French I was never really cut out for it.”

Six trainers’ titles and every significant race bar the Grand National have proved he made the right choice.

However, it is his ability to confront the dark days that sets him apart, according to former stable jockey Mick Fitzgerald.

“The number one thing in horse racing is you lose a lot more than you win,” Fitzgerald told AFP.

“One thing with Nicky Henderson is he is a very good loser and a very good winner.

“When he loses he does not skulk off and disappear, he faces up to it and is quite happy to do an interview.

“We have all slunk off, I have done it, wanting the ground to swallow you up. That is not him.”

- ‘King of the Hill’ -

Fitzgerald – whose most high profile wins in the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the 1996 Grand National did not come on Henderson horses – says another of his old boss’s qualities is staying calm.

“It is easy to lose faith and try things because you are panicking. With Nicky there is no panic,” said the 52-year-old Irishman.

“He is a very good race watcher in that he can see an awful lot more because he does not get too emotional when he watches his horses.”

Henderson’s recipe for remaining competitive for so long is due to being able to move with the times, according to fellow trainer Jamie Snowden – who was his assistant from 2004-08.

“He is a remarkable trainer,” Snowden told AFP.

“He has adapted and remoulded his methods through the years.

“His roots are very traditional and that side of training I would like to hope we follow him in upholding as much as we can.

“He is an incredible man who has still got the love and hunger for racing.”

Long Run is one of two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners for Nicky Henderson

Fitzgerald says there was not an angry word between him and Henderson during the 15 years they were a team and that, unlike some trainers, there was open debate about tactics.

“There is a discussion how best to ride the horse,” he said.

“He had a great understanding with all the jockeys that have ridden for him: Richard Dunwoody before me, Barry Geraghty after me and now Nico de Boinville.

“He does not put you under too much pressure, he has always got your back.

“He made me feel king of the hill.”

Fitzgerald – whose four wins for Henderson at the 2000 Cheltenham Festival saw him finish leading rider – says there is a reason owners still flock to his stables.

“He loves Cheltenham and a lot of his owners have horses with him because of that,” said Fitzgerald.

“Nicky has proved over the years he is really good at having the horses primed.

“He never rushes a horse, he allows them to tell him when they are ready.

“He is really good at listening to them and getting them to peak at the right time.”