Nicky Henderson has admitted Constitution Hill’s first visit to the Randox Grand National Festival a fortnight today (Opening Day, Thursday 13th April) for the £250,000 Grade One William Hill Aintree Hurdle “could be his last run over hurdles”.
Jump racing’s superstar heads to Merseyside fresh from landing the Unibet Champion Hurdle in breathtaking fashion on March 14th and his trainer hopes to school him over fences before the end of next month.
The Michael Buckley-owned six year old is set to step up to two and a half miles for the first time in his career at Aintree, with hopes high that he can add to Henderson’s joint-record five wins in the Aintree Hurdle.
Speaking at his Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn today about what the future might hold for the son of Blue Bresil, Henderson said: “It’s possible Aintree could be his last run over hurdles. Everything is possible.
“There are more opportunities over fences to start with, which would lead to the Arkle and the Champion Chase or maybe even the Gold Cup if he stays. A real superstar is horse that can adapt to everything.”
Asked when a decision will be made on whether to stay over hurdles next season or go chasing, Henderson explained: “It’ll certain all happen after Aintree. Michael was down here the other day and we said what we would probably try and do is, about 10 days after Aintree, if the ground hasn’t dried up too quickly, we’ll school him over fences here (at Seven Barrows) and that’ll give us an idea.
“Then we have the whole summer to sit down and discuss but if we’ve had one look at him schooling over fences Nico will know, and Michael and I will know, pretty well what are the options then.
“If he’s very, very good we’ve got two options. If he’s very, very bad – which is unlikely but anything is possible – his hurdling and his way of crossing a hurdle is very, very effective but you can’t do that over fences.
“He’s got to learn to jump rather than hurdle. It could be that he’s got totally the wrong technique, I don’t know. But I’d be very surprised. He’s such an intelligent horse that I think he’ll soon realise, probably by actually just rubbing a fence, that he’ll say ‘oh wow, somebody’s raised the bar and now we’ll do something about it’. It’ll probably take him one mistake to work it out and a lot of sensible horses will work it out.”
Asked what Constitution Hill could potentially achieve in the future, Henderson replied: “You can never assume anything because there are so many potholes along the road.
“They’ve got to stay sound and they’ve got to stay healthy and that’s why we all hate those last few weeks before Cheltenham, because so many things can go wrong. In those last three weeks (before this year’s Festival) we had a couple of blips and a couple of horses didn’t make it. A couple came in on slightly unsatisfactory preparations which I think we can iron out and a couple of then can go into Aintree a lot better than they went into Cheltenham.
“The road has got to be smooth the whole way. Luckily this year, touch wood and we’ve still got two weeks to go, he’s not had any issues and it would be very disappointing for everyone if he couldn’t run (at Aintree).”
Talking about the horse’s preparation for Aintree, Henderson added: “We have the advantage this year of the four-week gap between the two (Cheltenham and Aintree) when it’s normally three. This time last year there was a lot of talk about him running again (after Cheltenham) but in my mind there was no chance of him running again and he didn’t after the Supreme.
“He was only a young horse and it took a lot out of him to be honest. He didn’t come out of Cheltenham at all well last year and we only had the three-week gap.
“This year’s completely different. If it had been a three week gap he’d be going to Aintree. Touch wood I think he looks fantastic. I don’t think he’s ever looked better in his skin. He looks in great health.
“Cheltenham takes a lot out of any horse, however easy you think it’s been for him. It looked very straightforward and simple and you might say ‘he hasn’t even had a hard race’. But because his mind game is so good he takes it better than most and doesn’t get flustered and the atmosphere doesn’t get to him – it doesn’t bother him. It’s another day, it’s another dollar.
“But you’ve got to bear in mind that if you’re doing things to the standard he’s doing it to then you can only do it by putting in 110 per cent. So, it still has its impact and you’ve still got to recover in the same way as a horse that’s finished very tired. Obviously he didn’t finish very tired – he could have gone round again – but it still has an affect and you’ve got to help them through the recovery stage.”
Henderson revealed that Constitution Hill will have his first piece of proper work since Cheltenham this weekend.
He added: “He hasn’t started his serious work yet because we’ve had that gap. They have a very quiet first week, then he’s started cantering again and then he’ll have his first piece of work this weekend.
“Then he’ll have two more bits of work to do after that and then school, I’m sure, because the last hurdle he jumped - that sort of technique needs to be ironed out.
“You can’t iron it out completely – that’s his style and how he gets out of trouble – but luckily he’s got so much scope that he can do it. He was so full of horse that any other horse would have been tired at that stage and that mistake would have almost certainly tipped them over, but he had the ability to come up and then come up again in the air. It was an extraordinary thing to be able to do.”
Asked if he has any concerns over going up in trip, Henderson replied: “He’s got to show that he stays two and a half miles but don’t forget we were actually prepared to run him over two and a half first time out this year.
“We were actually going to go to Ascot, not the Fighting Fifth but the Ascot ground was very, very quick that day. As most people remember there was a lot of dispute over it but I’ll stand my ground that that ground was good to firm and you’re never going to run a horse like him on that. He’s never going to run on good to firm as long as he lives.
“But we were prepared to run him over two and a half first time out so I can’t be worried about going two and a half round Aintree at this stage of the year. It’s not a stiff track, it’s a speedy track, so I’d think two and a half would actually help him -but I could easily be wrong.
“Because of his fantastic mindset you can ride him in different ways – he doesn’t pull or do anything. Nico can ride him from the front or he can ride him from the back. He can go anywhere he likes with him.
“He can ride him a little bit more conservatively because it’s two and a half but he’s not going to drop him out the back. He’ll go to sleep for as long as you like and you’ll probably go for two and a quarter miles before you ask a question, instead of a mile and six and asking a question.”
Henderson has been successful in the Aintree Hurdle with Oscar Whisky (2011 and 2012), Buveur d'Air (2017), L'Ami Serge (2018) and Epatante (2022).