Nicky Henderson has hinted that his running plans are in place ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, as the six-time Champion Trainer galloped some of his key stars at Kempton Park this morning.
Henderson is the most successful British trainer of all-time at the Cheltenham Festival having trained 72 winners at the meeting and his nine-strong team on the all-weather this morning included the six year old Constitution Hill (ridden by Nico de Boinville), who is a red hot 1-3 Favourite for the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Working alongside Constitution Hill was Captain Morgs (Paul O’Brien) who has options in both the Pertemps Final and the Coral Cup and Ahorsewithnoname (Daryl Jacob), who’s a 16-1 chance for the Jack de Bromhead Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Constitution Hill’s very nature as a four-time Grade One winner who is unbeaten in five starts under Rules means that he gives Henderson something of a headache in terms of finding horses who can keep up with him, but the master of Seven Barrows was very pleased with what he saw from his charge this morning.
He said: “It all went to plan. The last lot was difficult to do because, as I’ve been saying all week, I’ve been hunting the country for a miler that I was going to get to jump in halfway round the back straight!
“To be fair, the other two boys have done a great job there (Paul O’Brien and Daryl Jacob), because they’ve just done their own thing and Nico has done his own thing. It was two bits of work happening at once and they did a good job as they just minded themselves.
“I wouldn’t bother writing something titled ‘A day in the life of Constitution Hill’ as it’s about the most boring thing you could write! That’s except for days like this of course, when he comes and does what he loves doing. That’s the whole point of doing it, it’s not for any reason other than the fact he enjoys it.
“He’s fit and he’ll have another piece of work at home, but it’s quite difficult at the moment without the grass. Good old Barney (Clifford, Clerk of the Course at Kempton Park) lets us come along and do that and I love doing it.
“They’ve all had a nice time and nothing has finished flat out off the bridle. Fusil Raffles got tired as he’s going to Aintree and he’s a little bit behind, but everyone else have enjoyed themselves so it’s good.
“I haven’t had one who’s given you the problem of how to work him. It worked well doing it that way and the other two just did their own jobs. We always used to put Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig together because when you’ve got two really good horses like that, if you do put them together you’ve got to have two seriously good riders.
“At the time the two young conditionals in my yard were Jerry McGrath and Nico de Boinville and they were very good and rode them both every day. It meant they could do a bit of work together and they’d do enough without doing too much to kill them – as you can certainly do too much in that situation.”
Also having a workout for Henderson were leading Sporting Life Arkle Trophy hope Jonbon (Aidan Coleman), as well as Balko Coastal (Nico de Boinville), Fusil Raffles and No Ordinary Joe (both ridden by Daryl Jacob).
That quartet were joined by Marie’s Rock (Nico de Boinville) and Epatante (Aidan Coleman), whose multiple Grade One options include the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle. Epatante also has the option of the Unibet Champion Hurdle alongside Constitution Hill while Marie’s Rock could also head to the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, but Henderson hinted that he was leaning towards separating the trio.
He said: “The only thing that would be up for discussion now – and I think this gives Nico and myself a bit more of a clue – is Marie’s Rock. I’ll talk to Tom Palin (from owners Middleham Park Racing) and we’ll have a look at the Stayers’ Hurdle. Nico was very pleased with her and Aidan was very pleased with Epatante. She isn’t technically in both (the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle) but she could go for either.
“JP (McManus) will decide what he wants to do, but if Epatante went to the Mares’ Hurdle I could see a very good reason for Marie’s Rock moving up to three miles in the Stayers’ Hurdle as that’s what that snapshot was telling us there. We’re pretty sure Epatante gets two and a half as she did at Aintree for all that I agree it’s not quite the same as going that trip at Cheltenham.
“That scenario would suit me but it isn’t about me, it’s about trying to do the best we can for each individual horse. It does realistically give all three of them a shot of winning a race. It just feels a little bit like common sense after watching what was happening today.
“I thought Epatante was great and she’s in very good form within herself. She’s quite big but she didn’t have a big blow. Jonbon was good and he did get warm today, but that’s why things like this do him good.
“Balko Coastal worked very well and I’m thinking about the Turners Novices’ Chase for him. I do think we can have him sharper than what he was at Sandown (when second in the Grade One Scilly Iles Novices’ Chase). I was mindful that he looked a bit big then and I thought he looked a bit tighter here. He stays I just feel I can have him a bit tighter than he was that day so I think I’ll probably stick with the Turners.”
Meanwhile, Henderson confirmed that Buzz would miss the Cheltenham Festival, perhaps in favour of a trip to the Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree. He added: “The only one who probably won’t go to Cheltenham I have to say is Buzz and I’ll probably concentrate on Aintree and possibly the Flat.
“He’s in very good form and is doing plenty of work, I was talking to the owners over the weekend and I don’t think that going three miles over hurdles on your first run for a year and a half is really a very sensible thing to be doing.”
Also in attendance was Constitution Hill’s owner Michael Buckley, who admitted that he was feeling the nerves ahead of the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
He said: “I’m looking forward to it and it’ll be fun, I hope the horse puts on a good show. As we stand here today, he is potentially the best horse I’ve ever had and perhaps he already is. He’s got to do it on the big day though.
“My nerves are chattering away and have been for weeks! When you get horses that are odds-on like that, the expectation is that he’s already won the race. I feel that it’s a rather sad fact of life that if he only wins by a length or two everyone is going to feel a sense of disappointment. I’ll be thrilled of course but he’s done a lot of showy things and I guess people are hoping for a show.
“We need two bits of luck, we need to get there in good shape and then we need Nico to have a bit of luck in-running and get him round without any issues and then hopefully we’ll win.
“When you think he’s had five races (under Rules) and won four of them at Grade One level, it’s pretty unusual.
“Nicky asked me here after the Christmas Hurdle what I want to do with him and I said we’d wait until after the Champion Hurdle and really it will be Nicky’s decision what we do with him moving forward. We’ll see.”