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Henderson's stars are fighting fit

Nicky Henderson’s Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill will not run again before his big day at Cheltenham, while the 2020 winner Epatante will run at Doncaster before running in either the Mares Hurdle or the Champion Hurdle at the festival.

The Lambourn trainer had to fend off speculation regarding the fitness of his unbeaten six-year-old this week, but Henderson insists Constitution Hill is in rude health and will soon start his preparations for the showpiece Grade One contest.

The six-time champion trainer meanwhile admitted he’d made a mistake in not entering Epatante, who was runner-up to Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle in both of the previous two Champion Hurdle runnings, for this year’s Mares Hurdle.

Six-time champion trainer Nicky Henderson
Six-time champion trainer Nicky Henderson

However despite the oversight, Henderson insists Epatante is still being considered for both races.

Henderson will doubtless be keen to avoid pitting his two stars against each other at the festival, after Constitution Hill proved far too good for his stablemate in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last month.

The third thoroughbred in Henderson’s equine holy trinity, Marie’s Rock, looks set to defend her Mares Hurdle Crown although the veteran handler hasn't ruled out a step up in trip, which would open the door to Epatante.

Constitution Hill’s very well, he’s taking it easy before we start building him up ahead of Cheltenham,” he said.

“I think we all have an idea of how good he is, but there are no guarantees in racing and there’s a lot we’ve got to get right between now and then, and of course he’s got to get it right on the day.

Epatante’s going to go to Doncaster on Saturday, and as to Cheltenham I couldn’t really say, she could go in either.

“It’s very possible that Marie’s Rock could go up to three miles, which would leave Epatante in the Mares Hurdle and Constitution Hill in the Champion.”

Henderson at Newbury Racecourse's Coral Gold Cup Day
Henderson at Newbury Racecourse's Coral Gold Cup Day

Meanwhile, Shishkin is on the road to recovery after the nine-year-old underwent a recent wind procedure.

Henderson had hoped he'd line up in Saturday's Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton but a flipped palate ruled him out of the race and he's now set to return in next month's Ascot Chase.

The gelding won 11 of his 12 starts prior to being pulled up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March of last year and was third in the Tingle Creek Chase on his return in December, but his comeback has been slowed by what Henderson termed "a couple of minor hiccups" as he looks to get him back to winning ways.

He said: "Shiskin's fine, he's on the mend.

"We think we've done some good there, we're looking forward to seeing him back and racing.

"He's going to run at Ascot, he's an unbelievable horse and we're excited to have him back at his best."

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