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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Henderson insists it's not over yet as title battle enters final week

Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls: contrasting views on title battle
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Nicky Henderson is preparing himself for a tense final week of the jumps season believing he can still be caught for the trainers' title after rival Paul Nicholls clawed back vital ground by winning the Scottish Grand National.

Despite Nicholls' insistence that victory for him remained "nigh on impossible", Henderson says there is still plenty that could happen over the closing days, the climax coming at Sandown on Saturday.

Henderson is a 1-10 shot with Paddy Power to claim what would be his fourth championship even after Vicente won the big race at Ayr on Saturday, and Nicholls – a 5-1 chance – sent out another three winners at Wincanton on Sunday to reduce the deficit to £170,716.

Henderson will spend most of this week at Punchestown, where Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours are among his team, and does not expect to have many runners at home before Saturday, when Altior will be his headline runner.

"I don't feel like a 10-1 on shot," he said. "I've seen plenty of those beaten. I don't think I'm being overly pessimistic, but I have one runner tomorrow and Paul has a lot of ammo. I'm always cautious.

'Entertaining and interesting'

"It's going to make it entertaining and interesting. I'd have accepted Paul's concession, but there's a lot still to happen. Of course he can catch me. You only need to see what he can win today. He's trying and we're trying."

Henderson continued: "I'll be going to Punchestown for the week. I have hardly any runners until the weekend. The ground down south, as it is, is miles too quick for us, but we could send a few to Perth. It could be mighty tight between Paul and myself.

"Vyta Du Roc will run in the bet365 Gold Cup. Sugar Baron fell at the first on Saturday, so it's possible he could run too depending how he is. The plan is to run Altior, which will be an interesting race with Special Tiara, and we have a few hurdlers."

Altior: a major card for Nicky Henderson to play at Sandown

Nicholls conceded the race for the title he has won ten times after the Grand National meeting and, despite the lifeline to his campaign thrown by Vicente, insists nothing has changed.

"It's no different to what it was two weeks ago," he said. "It's mathematically possible to win, but I'll need to win everything and Nicky nothing. It won't happen – £180,000 is a lot to get back.

"If Zubayr had won by a short head instead of being beaten a short head on Saturday, £40,000 might have made a big difference. It's a huge task."

Nicholls made no entries for Perth's three-day meeting and will not change plans for the sake of his title ambitions, ruling Vicente out of a quick reappearance in the bet365 Gold Cup.

"I'm not going to run Vicente again," he said. "I had a whole team planned for Sandown anyway and that won't change. Vicente has finished.

"I'll make a plan for the rest in the morning, but Southfield Theatre and Just A Par are definitely running in the bet365. It's been the target for Southfield Theatre for months and Just A Par always does the two [Grand National and bet365].

'This year he is ready'

"They were second and fourth last year, when Southfield Theatre had a bad prep. This year he is ready. Just A Par is doing the same as last year and likes Sandown."

Despite a season without a headline horse, Nicholls, who reported on Sunday that Arpege D'Alene had sadly suffered a fatal injury in the Scottish Grand National, has plenty he is proud of.

"Everybody likes winning titles but we've still had an amazing season without top Grade 1 horses," he said. "We're proud of where we've got, and to be challenging. You can't do it every year without having the very best players and at the moment we don't have them.

"Being realistic, we've had an awesome season, it's the 15th time we've had £2 million-plus in prize-money. I said to Nicky on Friday with all those Grade 1 horses he had he deserves to win it."

The week's £25,000-plus races

UBS Wealth Management Novices' Handicap Chase, £25,000/first prize £15,640 (Nicholls declaration: Contre Tous)

River Tay Handicap Chase £25,000/£15,640 (Henderson entries: Cocktails At Dawn, Hammersley Lake, Full Shift)

bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle £50,000/£31,280
bet365 Oaksey Chase £50,000/£28,475
bet365 Celebration Chase £125,000/£71,187
bet365 Gold Cup £150,000/£84,405
bet365 Select Hurdle £50,000/£28,475
bet365 Josh Gifford Novices Handicap Chase £30,000/£18,768
bet365 Handicap Hurdle £30,000/£18,768

I don't feel like a 10-1 on shot. I've seen plenty of those beaten
E.W. Terms
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