Nicky Henderson may be readying his team for the Cheltenham Festival but the trainer looks set to be represented at another of racing’s top events after Hurricane Higgins qualified for All-Weather Championships Finals Day on his first start for over two years.
The seven-year-old edged out Godolphin’s Gold Trial in a thrilling finish to the two-mile £25,000 32Red Conditions Stakes at Lingfield Park, on Saturday, February 28, guaranteeing a place in the £150,000 32Red Marathon over the same course and distance on Good Friday, April 3.
Making his first start since running in the Group One Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, France, in October, 2012, 12/1 chance Hurricane Higgins raced towards the rear of the seven runners for much of the race and was last under Joe Fanning passing the furlong-pole.
But he flew home and got up on the line to just beat 10/11 favourite Gold Trial (Charlie Appleby/Ryan Moore) by a nose, with half a length and a neck back toJohn Reel (David Evans/John Egan) in third and fourth home Uramazin (Philip Hide/Liam Keniry).
Henderson, who enjoyed three winners from three runners today, was not at Lingfield and had not had a chance to talk to Fanning or the owner Alan Spence so he has not finalised any plans for Hurricane Higgins yet.
The trainer said: “It was a fantastic performance today, I cannot really believe it.
“Hurricane Higgins has been with us since the start of the season and he stays like nothing on earth as well as being a very good jumper.
“But we did not want to win a hurdle with him at this stage of the season and so decided to go to Lingfield today.
“He was turned out in a field for over a year but came to us fully repaired. I need to talk to the owner and Joe who used to ride Hurricane Higgins when he was trained by Mark Johnston.
“We have the option of Good Friday now but I want to see how the horse is in the morning and then formulate plans.”
Spence said immediately after the race at Lingfield: “It is incredible. Hurricane Higgins probably need the race as well as he has been off the racecourse for nearly two and a half years.
“The race was run his way – they went pretty quick and a gap came and we won.
“Hurricane Higgins was turned out in Mark’s (Johnston) field for 18 months because he had bad legs and Mark recommended we went jumping with him because of his legs.
“He went straight from the field to Nicky Henderson last summer. He jumps well over hurdles.
“We ran Hurricane Higgins today because he was rusty after all that time off – he is a big horse and we thought he would need the run.”
Horses qualify for the seven championship contests on the £1.1-million All-Weather Championships Finals Day (Good Friday, April 3, 2015) by winning a specified “Fast Track Qualifier” or running in a minimum of three races at Britain’s five All-Weather tracks, Lingfield Park, Southwell and Wolverhampton, owned by ARC, The Jockey Club’s Kempton Park and Chelmsford City, between October 30 and March 30.
Alternatively, one of the three qualifying runs can come at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse (dirt) or on the All-Weather surfaces at Ireland’s Dundalk and the French tracks of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Chantilly and Deauville.