Champion jockey Richard Johnson defends Nicky Henderson’s campaigning of Constitution Hill and predicts comfortable victory for Jonbon in Clarence House Chase
Four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson has defended Nicky Henderson’s campaigning of Constitution Hill ahead of Cheltenham Trials Day this weekend.
The veteran trainer teased the suggestion that Constitution Hill, who has only run once this season, could line up in the Unibet International Hurdle on Saturday before ruling the seven-year-old out following an unsatisfactory scope.
Henderson has come in for criticism, with Constitution Hill – the most talented hurdler for at least two decades – set to run a maximum of three times this term; the gap between his seasonal reappearance in the Christmas Hurdle and his Champion Hurdle defence will be three-and-a-half months.
Yet there are indisputable mitigating circumstances. The weather scuppered Henderson’s plans to race his unbeaten superstar in the Fighting Fifth and the 73-year-old has rightly placed the horse’s health above all when ruling out a title at the International Hurdle.
Even so, racing fans have been left largely frustrated by Henderson’s reluctance to race his star, especially after owner Michael Buckley hinted Constitution Hill could be sent on a swashbuckling campaign over fences in a bid to emulate the great Dawn Run.
However Johnson, who was speaking to BoyleSports, who offer the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup odds, defended Henderson’s decision.
“I don’t think you can knock Nicky for not running him,” he said.
“In the olden days often horses used to run against each other quite a lot. It wasn’t guaranteed which one was going to win. At the moment Constitution Hill is head and shoulders above any two mile hurdler in England.
“If he had scoped badly and Nicky isn’t happy with him then if I was the owner I wouldn’t want to run. Running them when they are not right is ridiculous. It is the same for an athlete - if you are not at your best you should not be performing.
“If he had run and had a hard race and he wasn’t right and if it knocked him for six to eight weeks time, you would be gutted.
“Some horses thrive on racing and with others you just have to take your time with them. Constitution Hill is one of those horses we will see for a long time to come. You are being a little bit cautious with the future in mind. With jump horses you’re hoping their careers could be six to eight years long.”
Racing fans can look forward to seeing another of Seven Barrows’ prodigal sons this weekend when Jonbon, who has already won the Shloer Chase and the Tingle Creek, seeks to live up to his favourite’s tag in the Clarence House Chase.
And Johnson is confident Henderson will be celebrating, suggesting he is a cut above the rest of the field.
He said: “Gary Moore’s horse Editeur Du Gite loves Cheltenham but realistically he is not in Jonbon’s league.
“It is difficult for people to understand that a top handicapper who can win off 155 or 158 to make that jump to grade one class. On the numbers it shouldn’t be a very big difference; but those championship races do just take everything to a different level.
“Nico [De Boinville, jockey] has shown with Jonbon if there is no pace and people play a cat and mouse game, he will go forward on Jonbon. He is not going to be a dawdler. Nico seems to get on well with him and I think it will be quite a clear cut win.”