Henderson: No point in speculating on how Constitution Hill might have fared

Nicky Henderson did not want to speculate on what might have been after seeing his admirable mare Luccia finish third in a Unibet Champion Hurdle lacking stable star Constitution Hill.

The undoubted ace in the Seven Barrows pack, Constitution Hill was mesmeric when leaving the Willie Mullins-trained State Man in his wake 12 months ago, but a very public sub-par workout at Kempton, followed by unsatisfactory scopes and blood test results meant he was unable to defend his crown.

State Man was therefore a short price to claim the feature event on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and duly landed the odds, but the proximity of the 140-rated Luccia in third, beaten just three and a half lengths, only made Constitution Hill’s absence all the more conspicuous.

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Nicky Henderson with Constitution Hill
Nicky Henderson with Constitution Hill (David Davies/PA)

“I’m thrilled for State Man and Willie and Joe and Marie (Donnelly, owners), I’ve got three runners for them (Donnellys) on Friday and they’re the best,” said Henderson afterwards.

“We’ve had plenty of banter throughout the winter of how State Man and Constitution Hill are going to have a good battle and it wasn’t to be, which is a shame.

“There’s no point in speculating where Constitution Hill would have finished in front of Luccia, I think you can probably guess where he’s going to finish, but that’s for another day.”

Whether Constitution Hill will run again this season, either at Aintree or at Punchestown for a belated rematch with State Man, remains to be seen, but Henderson did issue an upbeat update on his well-being.

He added: “Constitution Hill was ridden out with the others this morning, which was nice to see. His bloods are better, but we’ve got a long way to go.

“He’s not 100 per cent (over the infection), but it’s a long way going down the road of improving dramatically.”

Constitution Hill’s setback aside, there is no doubt Henderson’s string has not been firing on all cylinders ahead of the Festival and the fact both Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender Jeriko Du Reponet and Champion Hurdle hope Iberico Lord were pulled up gave the trainer further food for thought.

“Some of these horses probably aren’t running how they ought to, in which case he (Constitution Hill) is probably safer where he is,” he said.

“Everything you do at home tells you they’re all perfectly right, otherwise to be honest with you they wouldn’t be here.

“We’ll just have to play it quietly and take them as individuals. (The tests) say they’re all OK, but this ground has gone against quite a few of them, so we’ll have to regroup. I can think of two or three that won’t want to be running on that ground, but I need to talk to the owners first.”

Michael Buckley and Nicky Henderson following Constitution Hill's Champion Hurdle success last year
Michael Buckley and Nicky Henderson following Constitution Hill’s Champion Hurdle success last year (Tim Goode/PA)

The owner of National Hunt racing’s pre-eminent star, Michael Buckley, was also in attendance.

He said: “It’s not very gracious but I think if he ran, he’d have won the race, that is what I think. If I don’t believe in my horse, no one else will.

“He had his blood test yesterday and while they were remarkably improved from where they were a week ago, they weren’t ‘normal’ – but he is out and about.

“It’s not really for me to talk about Nicky’s horses, but on home work Iberico Lord would beat Luccia so, as everyone is commenting about, Nicky has something running about his yard.

“Obviously, Luccia is fine but Iberico Lord pulled up and so did the one in the first (Jeriko Du Reponet), so maybe I’m better off out of it and in a weird way I’m better off not running.”

While the Constitution Hill questions kept coming, Henderson was keen to praise 33-1 shot Luccia’s better than anticipated performance, saying “It was all Paul’s (Sandy, owner) idea to run, the idiotic trainer said ‘you’re mad’ and if I’d had any say in the matter she’d have run in the County Hurdle, but I’m not the boss.

“From two months ago, we’ve said we’d run her and give it a go, she’s a very good mare. She might be going to stud now, but I’ll try to persuade Paul to have another bash.”

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