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Henderson admits defeat in championship battle with Nicholls

Nicky Henderson has conceded defeat in the race to land a seventh trainers’ title.

Despite the victories of Epatante and Jonbon at Aintree, the Seven Barrows handler is raising the white flag to Paul Nicholls, who looks set to win a 13th championship on bet365 Gold Cup day at Sandown on April 23.

While Nicholls was winless at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year running, he seemingly shored up another championship when Clan Des Obeaux landed the Betway Bowl for the second year in succession.

He doubled up on Friday with Gelino Bello in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and Hacker Des Places scored in a handicap hurdle, putting him on £2,618,884 in prize money won for the season, some £267,781 ahead of Henderson with two weeks to go.

“No, the title race is not up for grabs,“ said Henderson. “We had a good try, but there is not much left. We concede on that.

“We got within touching distance and we might have worried Paul for five minutes, but not much more.

“We have got a lot to look forward to, as we have got a lot of very good young horses.”

Among those is runaway Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Constitution Hill, who beat stablemate Jonbon by 22 lengths at Cheltenham.

Henderson will meet with owner Michael Buckley later this week to decide whether or not Constitution Hill will tackle dual Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on April 29.

He added: “We have to settle down and think about what goes to Sandown and what goes to Punchestown.

“I haven’t spoken to JP (McManus) yet, and Michael Buckley and I are going to have a meeting this week to see what we are going to do with Constitution Hill and there are others who may or may not go there.”

Nico de Boinville aboard Marie’s Rock after their win in the David Nicholson Mare's Hurdle at Cheltenham
Nico de Boinville aboard Marie’s Rock after their win in the David Nicholson Mare’s Hurdle at Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Marie’s Rock, who landed the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, will head to Punchestown.

“She’s definitely going to go for the mares’ race,” said Henderson. “There are a couple of other novices who will go there. Jonbon certainly would not.

“Epatante, I’d like to talk to JP. She was brilliant at Aintree – and I’m just getting the hang of her!”

Henderson also had news on two of his sidelined stars, Buzz and Shishkin.

Buzz is continuing to improve after suffering a fractured pelvis. The dual-purpose gelding gave Henderson a Cesarewitch victory in October and then switched back to the National Hunt code to claim the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November.

A return to the latter track for the Long Walk Hurdle was the next intended port of call, but he met with a significant injury the day before the race.

Oisin Murphy riding Buzz to victory in the Cesarewitch
Oisin Murphy riding Buzz to victory in the Cesarewitch (Tim Goode/PA)

“Buzz is very good,” reported Henderson. “He had eight weeks’ box rest for which he was incredibly good.

“He is now on his third week walking. The first week he was allowed to do one lap of the yard, the second week he does two and this week he is going to do three laps of the yard.”

Shishkin was a hot favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, before being pulled up early on. He was subsequently found to be suffering from a rare bone condition.

Plans to run in the Celebration Chase at Sandown have been shelved and Henderson said: “Shishkin was a bitter blow because I would have loved to have got him to Sandown, but he will be OK. He just needs rest.”

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