Nicky Henderson says Constitution Hill “couldn’t be better” as he takes on five rivals in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
While the master of Seven Barrows will be absent from the Esher track as he self-isolates at home after contracting Covid-19, bookmakers expect Constitution Hill to follow up last month’s course and distance success in the two-mile Grade One feature.
The Michael Buckley-owned five-year-old romped to a 14-length victory on his hurdling debut and is long odds-on to follow up, yet Henderson – who has won this race five times – believes a sixth victory is far from a foregone conclusion and outlined Shallwehaveonemore as a threat.
“I was very, very impressed with that horse of Gary Moore’s in a bumper at Kempton last year – he beat one of ours (Walking On Air) which we thought would win and he absolutely murdered us,” he said.
“I thought mine was a nice horse that day and he absolutely annihilated us.”
However, Constitution Hill has pleased the eight-time champion trainer since his visually impressive hurdling debut, and with Ascot Grade Two winner Jonbon already favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Henderson could find himself in a very strong position if, as seems likely, both are aimed at the Cheltenham Festival opener.
“Constitution Hill has come out of the (Sandown) race OK and he couldn’t be better. We’re all happy,” he added.
“Jonbon will have one more race before Cheltenham and now, but both he and Constitution Hill are two-milers.”
Opposition to Constitution Hill comprises three rivals who have won both of their last two runs, a British debutant and the aforementioned Shallwehaveonemore, who, as Henderson said, impressed in winning a bumper at Kempton last March but was keen when runner-up on his hurdling bow at Ascot in October.
Moore hopes his runner has plenty in his favour.
He said: “He worked well on Tuesday morning. It’s a tough order, but he loves going right-handed and soft ground will suit him.
“Everything went wrong that day at Ascot and he still finished second, so I was happy.”
Jetoile is one of a trio of dual winners and is trained by Ryan Potter, who is in his first full season with a licence at the Caradoc Estate near Ross-on-Wye.
Jetoile finished a close-up third to Top Bandit in a Cheltenham maiden hurdle in October – form which has been subsequently franked by the winner and runner-up – and has won at Chepstow and Leicester subsequently.
Lorcan Williams will replace Daryl Jacob, who rode the seven-year-old on each occasion, as he remains sidelined with a hip fracture, but he has been heavily involved in placing the horse.
Jacob said: “Jetoile is a lovely horse and a horse for the future. He will be a wonderful chaser, probably next year, but he has done nothing wrong this year.
“He was a good third at Cheltenham behind a very good horse of Gordon Elliott’s and was not beaten very far – and he’s won two nice races quite impressively, I thought. He is definitely a horse for future.
“We talked about different races and he’s won two nice races, so I thought if you run him in a novice you have a double penalty and with the Tolworth, there has never been many runners in the race.
“Whether it is the time of year, it is never the strongest of Grade Ones.
“I know Constitution Hill looked impressive last time, but if you take him out, the next best rated horse is 132 and I think that, while Jetoile has a rating of only 125, I definitely think his is 130-135 over hurdles. Whatever he does over hurdles, it will be a bonus to what he is going to do over fences.”
Paul Nicholls has won this race four times, the last in 2008 with Breedsbreeze.
He saddles Mr Glass, who won two bumpers last season and who followed up his Chepstow maiden hurdling debut win over and extended two miles and three furlongs, with a novice hurdle success at Newcastle over two and three-quarter miles in November.
He takes a significant drop back in trip at Sandown, but Nicholls feels any rain may be in his favour.
“He is smart, unbeaten in his last four races and having won on both his starts over hurdles, he has fully earned a shot,” Nicholls told Betfair.
“From his early days, Mr Glass has always been a superb jumper and while he wants more than two miles, rain is forecast and if the race turns into a war of attrition that will be in his favour.”
After failing to score in four attempts in bumpers last season, Datsalrightgino has similarly won his first two starts over hurdles for Jamie Snowden, latterly taking a novice over two miles and a furling at Cheltenham.
Snowden said: “I think he’s earned the right to have a go at this as he’s been faultless this season, two from two over hurdles.
“I was disappointed we couldn’t win a bumper last year, he finished second in three of them, but we tweaked his wind over the summer. I don’t know if that has made a difference but he has looked good so far over hurdles and deserves a crack at a nice prize.
“I don’t think the ground will be an issue as he had form on deep ground last season, I think he’s pretty versatile. We’d only had decent ground until the last couple of weeks but I think he can go on any ground.”
The line-up is completed by six-year-old German import Whizz Kid, who makes his British and hurdling debut for Dr Richard Newland, having won four of his 14 starts on turf when previously trained by Andreas Wohler and Peter Schiergen.
He will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, who said in his blog for William Hill: “It’s a very competitive race to start him off in, but at the end of the day you need to get a gauge of what he might be capable of moving forward.
“Some of his form in Germany and France looks pretty good, so there’s every hope that he can run well in this company. This will be a big day at school for him and we’ll learn a lot, but everything I’ve done on him at home has been nice and I’m looking forward to giving it a go.
“I’d back Dr Newland 100 per cent, so if he thinks it’s worth having a go, then it’s worth having a go.”