Leading trainer Nicky Henderson has expressed that he will be shutting down his training operation partially for the next few weeks to get to the bottom as to why the majority of his horses are running below par.
It has not been the Christmas period that the Seven Barrow handler was dreaming about with big guns like Altior, Epatante and Santini all running well below their usual levels, with Shishkin being one of the only notable big race winners for the trainer who usually cleans up in England at this time of year.
One of the biggest shocks over Christmas came when the superstar Altior was beaten for the second time in his career by 20/1 shot Nube Negra, with the 10 year old struggling from a long way out.
Henderson was quick to defend his horse after the race and got rid of any assumptions that retirement was looming for the star, but it now looks as though the handler had a genuine excuse for his horse not running to his usual level.
In the aftermath of the race Henderson said on Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “We had him scoped (after the race) – we can’t scope him again today because it’s a Bank Holiday and the laboratory is shut, but we have reason to continue investigating that.
“There was evidence (of a dirty scope). I spoke to (vet) Simon Knapp last night – he confirmed there was, and we need to do a tracheal wash, which then goes to the laboratory. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find there is something amiss.
“It’s definitely not normal, because he was scoped on Christmas Eve and we know it was 100 per cent clean, but 48 hours is a long time in a horse’s life.
“It would be enough (to affect his performance) – it would in Simon Knapp’s opinion anyway.”
Along with Altior, Epatante was almost more of a shock loser by 6 and 1 1/2 lengths to Silver Streak who the mare had beat three times previously in convincing fashion, but in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day the Evan Williams trained grey managed to reverse the form.
Henderson again believes there is also a reason the Grade One winning mare did not perform to her best and will now get to the bottom of the problem within his yard.
He added: “I don’t think it’s the same (problem with Epatante) – I think something else will come up there, and I’ve got ideas. That wasn’t her, and we know it wasn’t her. (Whether she was in season) is being investigated.
“I’d be surprised if Epatante ran again before Cheltenham – she didn’t last year, and I see no reason to run her again.
“I’m perfectly happy with both these horses that I’ve got good grounds for thinking there are reasons behind this – and with a bit of luck and a following wind, we can get them back into action.”