Confusion reigned at the start of Huntingdon’s meeting on Sunday when 2019
Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills enjoyed a walkover.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old was supposed to be making his chasing debut, on his first start over jumps in 964 days.
Having made a successful comeback on the Flat in September, Henderson was keen to get him started over fences, where he was set to face a stiff task against Chris Gordon’s Aucunrisque, who already had a win over the larger obstacles to his name.
But Gordon had made no secret of the fact he was slightly concerned about quick ground for his charge and that he would walk the track before racing.
On his return Gordon announced he was happy enough to let Aucunrisque take his chance. However, just as the two jockeys were due to mount Gordon had second thoughts and pulled his runner out.
“Chris had said yesterday if it was quick he might not run as he hadn’t run at Cheltenham last time. We were always going to run. It is very difficult and we all get cold feet at times as the horse comes first,” said Henderson.
“He would handle quick ground and he has done everything right at home. He has had a run on Flat just because he had the time off and he won that.
“The problem is he picks up a penalty and where do you go next as he is rated 150? I can’t find a race for Jonbon before the Henry VIII. There are several of them all rated in the 150s. They can’t run in a two-mile novice handicap and there are no two-mile novice chases.
“I’m sad to say the system makes it difficult for us. He has to come into a novice chase with a penalty. He gets lots of prize-money, but he has got no experience. He has to come into another novice chase with 150-rated horses giving them six or seven pounds.
“The cat hasn’t got as much cream as you think as it has given us a dilemma. There was a race at Warwick on Tuesday and I entered him in case this happened.
“To be fair the Owners Group had Stage Star in there. You can’t expect them to run two against each other, but that will happen soon.
He went on: “His one great weapon is his jumping as he was a better hurdler than a Flat horse and I think he could easily be a better chaser than a hurdler. His schooling over fences has been fantastic.
“In the good old days walkovers did happen as you didn’t know what was happening, but now you have this transparency in entries that it really can’t happen but we always knew this would be a two-horse race.
“There is a race at Kempton Park over two miles two in November, but again we need the ground. There are just so few races.
“I’ve talked to the BHA. It is not anybody’s fault there are only two runners, it was only because of the ground and no other reason.”
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