Henderson cannot wait to unleash “extraordinary” Constitution Hill.
In the four weeks leading up to the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson is preparing to unleash the “extraordinary” Constitution Hill in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
The son of Blue Bresil has become the leading star of National Hunt racing in just over a year. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March and won two wide-margin novice hurdle races at Sandown in the winter.
Constitution Hill slammed his 2020 Champion Hurdle-winning stablemate Epatante in both the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, ensuring that he will return to the Cotswolds as a red-hot favorite to provide Henderson with a record ninth Champion Hurdle success. This season, any notion that blistering performance may have been a flash in the pan has been blown out of the water.
After opening his doors to the media on Monday, the master of Seven Barrows once more waxed lyrical about the six-year-old. However, he also warned that there is still a lot of ground to cover before the big day, and that a racetrack gallop is seen as an important part of his preparation.
“Constitution Hill is fine and everything’s been going great. He worked on Saturday. He has a few more bits of work to do and he’ll probably have an away-day,” said Henderson.
“We usually go to Kempton. I would be thinking of Newbury, but the ground is too quick there at the moment anyway, so unless the weather changes dramatically, we’ll have to see if we can go to Kempton as I would like Constitution Hill to have a gallop.
“I would have loved to have run him and the Contenders Hurdle was lovely, but I think they got fed up with me! I was actually going to say I’ll have an open day and let people come and see him gallop, but someone said ‘don’t be stupid, you’d get a crowd and where are you going to put them all!’
“I really seriously thought of doing it, but I don’t think it’s feasible.”
Henderson has been playing the game long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed, but he believes he has discovered a rare talent with no flaws in Constitution Hill.
He added: “He’s been around the track and broken records. He’s done most things and hasn’t done anything wrong, but there’s plenty that can go wrong and I think that’s the biggest issue.
“We all know between now and four weeks’ time, most days there’ll be a story that somebody’s out (of the Festival). You’ve just got to keep your fingers crossed and pray you’re going to get a clean run.”
Henderson acknowledges that winning the Champion Hurdle for Constitution Hill’s owner, Michael Buckley, a longtime friend, would be especially satisfying.
He said: “Michael has been with me an awful long time and we’ve had some wonderful times together, highs and lows.
“He’s had some very good horses actually, but he’s had some horrible luck along the way with horses like Spirit Son. I thought he was going to be a world beater and he died after a ridiculous accident while he was on holiday.
“We’ve had some great times with horses like Finian’s Rainbow and Brain Power, but this is an extraordinary animal.
“His greatest asset is his head – his whole mind game is absolutely brilliant.
“Nothing frightens him and you could go three miles with him if you wanted as you can just switch him off and he’d go to sleep. Then you wait for the right moment, Nico knows where the button is, you press the button and it works. It really is as simple as that.”
Henderson is of the opinion that the world is Constitution Hill’s oyster, despite his desire not to look beyond Cheltenham.
“He could go chasing, without a doubt. That will be a decision for the summer,” he added.
“You go back five or six years after Altior won the Supreme and Buveur D’Air finished third and we had to decide what to do.
“I said to Pat Pugh (Altior’s owner) ‘you will win the Champion Hurdle, but it’ll be too late to go chasing if we wait another year, so what do you want to do?’. We schooled him over fences and there was no doubt that he was a chaser.
“In the meantime Buveur D’Air went chasing as well and he didn’t find it as easy – he was hurdling fences and that’s always dangerous. So he went back over hurdles and won two Champion Hurdles.
“With Constitution Hill you could go chasing, you could go two and a half miles and you could even go three – I think you could go as far as you like.”
At Cheltenham, it remains to be seen whether Constitution Hill will encounter opposition from within his own backyard.
Epatante’s stablemate has beaten her by 12 and 17 lengths so far this season. She could take him on again after his recent confidence-boosting win at Doncaster, but she can also run in the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle on the same day.
In the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday, First Street, on the other hand, has a chance to win the Champion Hurdle.
Henderson said: “Epatante and First Street are still in it and First Street goes to the Kingwell on Saturday, which I think will be a good race for him. He’d have to win it very impressively to go for the Champion, but what else can you run in? I suppose you’d put him in the County, but we’ll see.
“We don’t know where Epatante goes at the moment, she’ll run in the Champion or the Mares’ Hurdle. We’ll keep an eye on the weather and Constitution Hill himself as he’s got to get there.
“The Champion Hurdle is four weeks tomorrow, which is a very long time away. A week is a long time in a horse’s life, four weeks is an eternity.”
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