Henderson call on star ‘no-brainer’ as Constitution Hill set to defend Champion Hurdle crown
Legendary Lambourn handler Nicky Henderson has admitted that the decision to keep Constitution Hill over hurdles was “not one of the more difficult” he’s ever had to make.
There had been speculation that the six-time champion jumps trainer would send his Seven Barrows superstar, who is unbeaten over seven starts, over fences in a bid to emulate the great Dawn Run and add the Gold Cup to his Champion Hurdle title.
However, the 72-year-old, along with owner Michael Buckley and jockey Nico de Boinville, has opted instead to keep the six-year-old hurdling, meaning he’ll likely follow a similar course to last season and defend his titles at Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth and Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle before aiming to win a second successive Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
“It was a no-brainer to be honest with you,” Henderson said.
“I think when the news broke people were saying it was the worst kept secret in racing. There was no reason to take such a risk. It would have been a very un-Henderson like thing to do.
“The only reason we’d have sent him over fences is if we were sure he could be a Gold Cup horse, but we couldn’t be confident he’d stay the three-and-a-quarter-miles.
“People might say it’s a safe decision but that’s fine by me. We have a responsibility to the horses and the owners, and if we could win another Champion Hurdle then that would be a spectacular achievement.”
Meanwhile, Henderson has welcomed some exciting new faces to Seven Barrows this summer. Unbeaten Willmount, a £340,000 purchase at the Cheltenham Sales in February 2022, was moved by owner Olly Harris from Neil Mulholland’s yard, while Excello arrives having won twice in five starts – finishing second in the other three – in France.
And Henderson has been impressed by both horses, with Willmount in line to progress to the Supreme at next year’s Cheltenham Festival, a race the illustrious trainer has won five times.
He said: “Willmount’s one we’re quite excited about – as I think are a lot of people.
“We’ve seen him do a couple of bits of work and there’s no doubt he’s got talent. We’ve schooled him and he jumps nicely. We’ve got his sister too, so we’re hoping we can have some success with them.
“He’s not a horse for the firm ground so I doubt we’ll see him before November.
“Excello is an interesting one. He’s won a chase in France but he’s still a novice over fences until November, so we could explore one or two options and have a look at him as a chaser before December.”
Henderson is also plotting courses for more familiar faces, with the likes of Luccia, Shiskin and Jonbon set to embark on new seasons.
Jonbon, a dual Grade 1 winner over fences last season, had looked in line to step up in distance but Henderson now feels he’ll stay at two miles, making Cheltenham’s Ryanair Chase a less likely destination.
“We’d always seen him as a two-and-a-half mile horse, but he was so good at Sandown that we think we’ll stay at two,” he said.
“He’s a wonderful horse with a very nice temperament, so we’re hoping he can have a successful season wherever he goes.”