HENDERSON’S DOUBLE ACT ON COURSE

18 February 2001

Brough Scott says the evergreen stablelads who look after Bacchanal and Tiutchev are the real winners

Possession is what is wanted as the Cheltenham countdown continues. For most of us the best hope is possession of a hot-looking ante-post voucher but Nicky Henderson and Mick Fitzgerald have the real thing. They have the horses. Bacchanal and Tiutchev duly completed their big race work-outs at Ascot yesterday.

But giving full credit to last year’s top Cheltenham team, and indeed full credit to respective owners Lady Lloyd Webber and the cryptically named Liars Poker Partnership, there were two other men in glowing possession yesterday. They were Richard Nicholas and Peter Deakin, the `lads’ that led-up Bacchanal and Tiutchev.

Between them they have been in racing for 65 years. Nicholas for 20, 60-year-old Deakin for 45. Both of them have led up Group One winners on the Flat – Nicholas did In The Groove when he worked for David Elsworth, Deakin did Formidable with Peter Walwyn. And last year they both had the crowning Cheltenham experience when they led yesterday’s winners back into the place of honour at the Festival.

“That was the biggest day of my career,” said Nicholas as he slopped water over Bacchanal’s chesnut coat afterwards. “The ground that day was very fast and he has won today in very heavy so we can take anything at the Festival. He will come on for this and I am very hopeful.”

Up close, Bacchanal is a much bigger horse than his low neck trajectory and tall jockey make him look on the racecourse. Indeed watching him crash through his hurdles would have made you worried for Fitzgerald’s health on this season’s switch to fences. But with the bigger obstacles has come increased respect. “I would have wet myself last year,” the rider said graphically afterwards, “but he has got it together now. I shall go to Cheltenham very positive.”

Tiutchev’s defeat of Celibate and The Outback Way was almost as easy as Bacchanal’s disposing of the left-jumping Bindaree although his chance was certainly made easier by favourite Bellator suddenly stropping himself into a one-horse strike as the tapes went up and refusing to move.

But who cares about excuses when your horse has just collected the best part of forty grand. Certainly, not Deakin as he led this mighty apple of his eye back to the dope box afterwards. “When I take the rug off him, you won’t believe how big he still is,” said Deakin in admiration. “He has taken his time this season but he is coming good at the right time.”

Back in the dressing room, the jockey would like to agree but first thoughts were on body maintenance. The physio was treating the ligaments of his damaged right elbow, an old injury which Bacchanal had reignited with an awkward jump early on. “Tiutchev went and jiggered it again,” said Fitzgerald, wincing in pain before drawing on a cigarette for solace. “They call it golfer’s elbow but I couldn’t play much with this. I shan’t ride again today but it should sort itself out.”

A couple of races later, Australia’s star chaser Logician was not quite in shape enough to make his second British effort a winning one. True he jumped miles better than during his somewhat erratic debut at Sandown, but honourable though his close third to Bright November and Mr Percy was, it remains a long way short of Gold Cup form. Bye, Bye that 66-1 we had ante- post.

On a day when Nick Dundee’s Gold Cup hope surely ended with another horrible jumping blunder at Gowran Park, it’s time to remember the passing of the ultimate cavalier, Dave Dick rider of 1952 Gold Cup winner Mont Tremblant. Dave also won the 1941 Lincoln Handicap weighing 7st 4lb. And in 1956, on ESB, was the man who swept past the hapless Devon Loch in the Grand National. His real weight was then about 11st 7lb.

Dave Dick had the best possession of all. He had a life and he lived it and more. Our world will be a lot duller place without him.

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