Nicky Henderson has already assembled a formidable team of horses for his annual assault on the four-day Cheltenham festival, and while the likes of Long Run, Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth and Finian’s Rainbow are all obvious contenders for top honours, his Simonsig is another who could well make a name for himself if encountering decent underfoot conditions, writes Elliot Slater.
Simonsig has always been held in high regard by the master of Seven Barrows who very early on in the gelding’s career realised that the son of Fair Mix needed a sound surface to produce his best form. The winner of two Irish point-to-points and a Fairyhouse bumper last term joined Henderson from the Ian Ferguson yard in Ireland during the summer break and immediately created a very favourable impression, word of which leaked out to the betting fraternity and prompted him to be sent off the 1/5 favourite to make a winning hurdles bow at Ascot in November.
Given a confident ride by stable jockey Barry Geraghty, the six-year-old travelled like a serious horse throughout the two-and-a-half-miles of the Redstone National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle, eventually coming home on the bridle to score by 11-lengths from 66/1 shot Brass Tax. The runner-up then proved the value of that form by again running well at big odds when a solid fourth to Deireadh Re in a Grade 2 event at Cheltenham the following month. Anyone following the Betfair horse racing will have been impressed.
Simonsig also took in a Grade 2 event on his subsequent outing, but in his race he came up against the high-class Fingal Bay, ante-post favourite for both the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. For a long way through the Sandown contest Henderson’s horse looked set to spring a surprise, especially when cruising up to join Fingal Bay approaching the last, but in the end the favourite found a little extra to score by two-and-three-quarter-lengths on the softish ground. On a better surface though at Cheltenham there are very good reasons for believing that Simonsig could be the value at current odds of a best price 14/1.