Atullibigeal thrusts understated Henderson into spotlight

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For someone who steadfastly maintains he likes to keep a low profile with his training activity, you can imagine that New Zealand trainer Carl Henderson has a good deal of trepidation about describing his work with exciting two-year-old galloper Atullibigeal.

Henderson produced the son of Street Boss to run away from his opposition in Saturday’s Listed Auckland Futurity Stakes (1400m) at Ellerslie, prompting plenty of media attention for the personable 48-year-old.

Henderson is taking it all in his stride as a by-product of working with a potential topliner but does admit he finds it hard for someone who maintains a boutique operation that is mainly focused on preparing young horses for clients in the Asian market, along with working with a small team of local runners.

“I pretty much like to keep out of the limelight and just go about the business we have established here in Te Awamutu,” Henderson said.

“We generally work with clients who buy horses to take up to Hong Kong and Macau. We break them in and get them going and then send them up there to race.

“I also have a few here for friends and clients and that is how we came about Atullibigeal.

“My wife and part-owner Ross Mackay’s wife are very good friends as they were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings so when Ross became involved with the horse, he got me involved as the trainer.”

While he may prefer to go about his business in an understated fashion, Henderson has a solid grounding in the industry despite not having a family background in racing.

“I got involved mainly through my Aunt who had a few horses,” he said.

“I used to go there during the school holidays and ride them, which I loved.

“I was 16 and weighed 39 kilograms so I was pretty much perfect to become an apprentice jockey.

“I did my time at Robert Priscott’s, where I rode 29 winners during my apprenticeship and also rode over fences for a season, but I ended up breaking my shoulder, so I didn’t see much future in that.

“I then went on to become Robert’s stable foreman for a number of years, spent some time in Japan and Australia and also had a few years away from the game working as a floor sander.

“While I did get out for a time, it is a hard game to stay away from, so I got back involved with breaking in and educating young horses and it has gone from there.”

After rededicating himself to training in 2015, Henderson picked up his first black-type victory on Saturday with Atullibigeal, who he believes can go on to become a performer at the elite level.

“He could well be a life changer,” Henderson said.

“He has that much raw talent and what he did on Saturday was just the beginning for him really.

“He is still raw and has a lot to learn but when he matures and gets up to 2000, he can be a serious horse.

“I would love to be involved with that journey but after his win the phone hasn’t stopped ringing with offers.

“It was the same when he won his maiden, but the owners put a pretty hefty price tag on him that slowed a few people down.

“The money has got even bigger now so you would have to be mad not to seriously consider it and very tough to turn down.

“If he does get sold, it will be a lost opportunity for me, but not something I will dwell on as he has been good for my business and gives me some further credibility with future clients.

“It is just a fact of New Zealand racing at the moment that the good ones are being sold, so you just get on with finding the next one.

“It was a very special occasion on Saturday and one that we have celebrated but the reality is it is back to business as usual on Monday.”

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