Nicky Henderson Lands First National With Brain Power In Bittersweet Victory
Henderson remains one of the leading forces in the training ranks of national hunt racing and has held a trainer’s licence for 41 years. Despite this, Grand National success has eluded him and he is much more well known for his list of Champion hurdlers, including the great See You Then and more recently Buveur D’Air.
One horse that had been expected to challenge for Champion hurdle honours was Brain Power, but he has been a bit of an enigma throughout his racing career. One of the best workhorses to have ever trained at Seven Barrows, he has failed to translate this to the track on a regular basis. This has been frustrating for his owner Michael Buckley, who has now been rewarded for his continued support of the yard over recent seasons. A much-deserved victory.
It was a return to form for Brain Power as he landed the 2m5f Grade One, 118th Grand National Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills (US) under Nico de Boinville, having been pulled up on his previous two starts prior to this. He picked up the first prize of £212,000, meaning the horse has now amassed more than £480,000 in prize money. Brain Power had attracted betting support prior to the race and was sent off at odds of 11/2 on the off.
Brain Power on his way to Grand National victory
It was clear the horse really enjoyed the rattling fast ground over in America. The eight-year-old is now expected to contest the Grade Two International Hurdle at Cheltenham, a race he won impressively last season. However, Henderson has not ruled out another attempt at fences for the horse down the road. This National victory means Brain Power has now won eight of his 21 starts under rules and sets him up well for the national hunt season ahead.
Brain Power was outpaced approaching the last by Wicklow Brave and looked set to take minor honours. However, the latter fell at the last, meaning the Henderson horse was left clear and powered to a 15 length success. This was very much a bittersweet victory with the fall of the Willie Mullins trained Wicklow Brave, who was fatally injured.
Wicklow Brave was one of the most versatile horses in training and a favourite at the Mullins yard.
Henderson paid tribute saying “He was such a good horse over the seasons and was as tough as they come.
“It was a case of two grand warriors doing battle in the closing stages but sadly one of them is not coming home.
“It was difficult to celebrate the win in the circumstances.
“My wife Sophie has been in touch with the Mullins’s and said how sad we all are.
“It was very much a bittersweet success for us as we simply hate winning races this way for obvious reasons.”
The 10-year-old had a career-best RPR of 165, following his incredible 2017 victory in the Grade One Punchestown Champion Hurdle. Another memorable success for the horse and yet another example of his versatility was his impressive front running victory in the Irish St Leger under Frankie Dettori. This saw him hold off the strong challenge of the Aiden O’Brien trained Order of St George and upset the 1/7 on favourite.
He was also only beaten by a short head in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this year. Wicklow Brave had continued this impressive recent form and had entered the National at Far Hills on a three-race winning run. Wicklow Brave will be remembered as a true legend of the game, with a record of 17 wins from his 59 starts under rules. He also amassed a stunning £944,479 in prize money for his connections.