Any of Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville’s pre-Champion Chase jitters would have been calmed a great deal by the performance of William Henry in the Coral Cup.
Despite having finished fourth in the race last year, the nine-year-old did not exactly jump off the page on his return to the festival, having pulled up on his only start of the season at Wincanton in December.
But pity those who doubted the ability of Henderson to ready one for the big day.
With the benefit of a wind operation, William Henry came from the clouds to get his head in front on the line, just in time to deny the Grade 1 and Classic-winning Wicklow Brave another memorable day by the narrowest of margins.
Deflecting any praise, De Boinville said: “That was a good training performance. He’s had only one run and pulled up. He’s had a wind op, and then to come and do that off that weight as well – that was some performance.”
Asked about his pre-race plan, De Boinville added: “Follow Ruby Walsh. That’s pretty much what it was. I got down to the start late and couldn’t get a position. That benefited us in the end though.
“I had in mind that when they’ve had wind ops horses can take a bit of time to figure out mentally they can go through with it again. I didn’t want to go after him too much down the hill so was happy to sit and try to fill up until we turned in and I could have a go at it.”
William Henry may have returned a 28-1 chance, but the cheer that went up after his number was called went some way to illustrate just how popular a Henderson-trained winner at the festival always is, no matter what price.
The success evoked memories of fellow Dai Walters-owned Whisper, De Boinville’s first festival winner in this race in 2014.
For Walters, this was a big turnaround in festival fortunes after Angels Breath and Al Dancer disappointed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 24 hours earlier.
Henderson added: “I wasn’t sure about the ground but it’s been a lucky race for us. It was a good performance off 11st 10lb. Wicklow Brave had 11st 12lb, so class tells even in these sort of races.
“Nico was hunting around the back with Ruby and they know their fractions. They’ve done their maths, if you like. They know what they’re doing.”
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