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Henderson hails 'extraordinary animal' Constitution Hill ahead of Cheltenham Festival





The six-time champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson opened the doors to his famous Seven Barrows yard in Lambourn on Monday to talk about his prospects for next month's Cheltenham Festival.

With 72 Cheltenham Festival wins to his name, Henderson is the most successful British trainer at fixture and only Ireland’s Willie Mullins has trained more winners at Jump racing’s Olympics.

Henderson’s standout contender is Constitution Hill, who is unbeaten in five starts over hurdles and odds-on favourite for the Unibet Champion Hurdle – a race Henderson has won a record eight times.

Nicky Henderson
Nicky Henderson

Much of the talk in the lead-up to the festival has been about Constitution Hill's potential face-off with two-time defending champion Honeysuckle, however Henry de Bromhead's mare was third at Fairyhouse in December and lost her Irish Champion Hurdle crown to the Willie Mullins-trained State Man two weeks ago, meaning she looks set to retire rather than take on Henderson's superstar six-year-old.

State Man is set to pose a threat to Henderson's unbeaten powerhouse while other challenges might well come from inside Seven Barrows, with both Epatante and First Street entered for the race.

"Constitution Hill's fine and everything has been going great," Henderson said.

"He's an extraordinary animal.

"His greatest asset is his head – not that it's the prettiest – but his whole mind game is brilliant.

"Nothing could scare him, not even the press.

"He's doing freakish things, but he's only had five runs in his life and you have to remember that it's very early days in his career.

"He's got an awful long way to go before I start saying things like he's the best horse I've ever had – it took me 10 years to say that about Sprinter Sacre."

Constitution Hill finished 17 lengths clear of Epatante at Kempton's Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day and so it appears more than likely Henderson will look to have the nine-year-old line up in the Mares' Hurdle, where she could well come up against another of Henderson's charges, assuming he doesn't send defending champion Marie's Rock to the Stayers Hurdle.

Henderson said: "Epatante's been superb and she's a beautiful jumper, she's been well beaten by Constitution Hill but she's beaten the rest and she was very impressive at Doncaster.

"Marie's Rock is in very good form and we certainly haven't ruled out the Stayers Hurdle, it won't be a decision we'll make in the near future."

Meanwhile, Willie Mullins' El Fabiolo replaced Henderson's Jonbon as favourite for the Arkle following the seven-year-old's less-than-impressive performance at Warwick at the weekend, but the handler is treating it as a "positive experience".

"I think it will have done him good personally, he had a really good blow like he's never done before," Henderson said.

"It was bloody awful to watch because it frightened the living daylights out of me but he jumped very well and eventually he's quickened up and won nicely."

Elsewhere, the much-talked-about Luccia is set to go in the Mares' Novices Hurdle.



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