Strapping Santini takes Henderson's Grade 1 haul to five with gutsy success
In the here and now there is absolutely no doubt Nicky Henderson has the strongest jumps team in Britain. With thrilling young talents like Santini that team looks set to become ever stronger.
For the wonderfully strapping six-year-old is the perfect example of a horse about which it can be said anything achieved over hurdles really is a bonus - and that makes his determined Aintree Grade 1 success all the more laudable.
The son of Milan increased his guv'nor's top-flight haul at this meeting to five races but it was a first for owners Richard and Lizzie Kelvin Hughes, who bred Santini and were particularly keen to see him head to Aintree after his Cheltenham Festival third.
He duly came and rewarded those punters who made him the strong 6-4 favourite by fighting off promising mare Roksana.
"He's a gorgeous horse," said Henderson. "He was enjoying himself out there. He is a lovely big baby of a horse and a chaser for next season.
"He ran such a good race at Cheltenham that we thought we ought to put him away, but temptation comes in. The horse has said all along, 'I'm up for this again', and, bless him, he has put up a great performance."
It was a performance that certainly impressed winning rider Nico de Boinville, whose ally is quoted at around 12-1 for the 2019 RSA Chase.
"I can't wait to ride him over fences," said De Boinville. "He is going to be some horse next season. At Cheltenham we got shuffled back. We were very keen to make amends today.
"He is an out and out stayer but I don't necessarily think the ground he had today is what he wants. He is only going to get better and will mature so much more with another summer on his back. He is definitely not yet the finished article."
The same applies to Roksana, whose trainer Dan Skelton said: "We'll look after her and hope she improves again."
Most horses will need to improve an awful lot to trouble Henderson's big guns - and the champion trainer was keen to stress his remarkable meeting has been primarily down to them and his team.
"Everyone at home has done brilliantly to get them here after Cheltenham," he said. "You have to have good horses. That has been the secret to it."
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