Tag Archive for: fighting fifth hurdle

Love Envoi ready for Fighting Fifth reappearance

Harry Fry has confirmed that Love Envoi will tackle Constitution Hill in the BetMGM Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

A winner of eight of her 11 races under rules, she has been a credit to her connections for the past two seasons.

As a novice, Love Envoi won the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and last season she went out on her sword when taking on Honeysuckle in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, finishing a gallant runner-up.

While she faces a tall order on her return to action against the best hurdler in training, Fry feels it is the perfect place to get her started.

Conditions are currently cold in the North East but precautions have already been taken, with the track under cover.

“She’s all ready to get her season under way. Obviously, it’s going to be a very good race with a certain Constitution Hill set to line up but it’s a lovely starting point for us,” he told Newcastle racecourse.

“We’ve been happy with her since she came back into work and we’re looking forward to seeing her out.

“I was delighted when Noel (Fehily, who manages the syndicate which owns her) asked me to train her, her first season went great, she was unbeaten over here and only lost her unbeaten tag in Ireland, winning at the Cheltenham Festival.

“Last year, she picked up where she left off, added two more wins and was then a brilliant second to Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle.

“That’s what her season will be built around once more in March, but we are looking forward to seeing her out this weekend.”

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Henderson only thinking of Newcastle with Constitution Hill

Nicky Henderson has few concerns about the cold week ahead as Constitution Hill’s eagerly-awaited return in the BetMGM Fighting Fifth Hurdle draws ever closer.

Having made the decision to stay over the smaller obstacles, the Seven Barrows superstar has long had the trip to Newcastle to defend his Fighting Fifth crown inked on his calendar.

The dry weather last autumn meant Constitution Hill was rerouted from Ascot to Gosforth Park for his seasonal debut 12 months ago, but Henderson does not envisage any similar problems this time around despite temperatures set to fall over the coming seven days.

Nicky Henderson Stable Visit – Seven Barrows
Trainer Nicky Henderson with Constitution Hill (David Davies/PA)

And having completed his big-race preparations at his Lambourn home earlier this week, Henderson reports his Champion Hurdler to be in rude health ahead of the first step on his journey back to the Cheltenham Festival.

“He galloped yesterday and everyone watched him and he’s fine,” said Henderson, speaking at Ascot, where he suffered the disappointment of Shishkin refusing to start in the 1965 Chase.

“All his work is done, it finished yesterday.

“I would seriously hope with a Grade One like that (there will be no issues), Newcastle will be fine. I’m not worried.

“He’s 100 per cent. He’s in very good form.”

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Constitution Hill ‘all set’ to come out Fighting at Newcastle

While it may be stressful training the best National Hunt horse around, Constitution Hill himself continues to astound Nicky Henderson with just how relaxed he is.

Henderson has repeatedly stated that one of the major weapons in his armoury is his laid-back nature, and he certainly wastes no energy at Seven Barrows.

Just like the perfect racehorse, though, he comes alive on the track and although it can be hard to gauge just where he is at on the gallops, so far Henderson has got it right.

He has enjoyed two blemish-free seasons, with three wins as a novice and four last year which started out in Newcastle’s Betmgm Fighting Fifth Hurdle – and he will go down the same route this season starting on Saturday week.

“Constitution Hill is fine. He’s asleep in his box. He’s all set for Newcastle,” said Henderson at Newbury on Tuesday morning.

But Henderson did have less positive news on Champ, who had been aimed at Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle next week.

He unfortunately will have to miss that engagement due to a setback.

“One who is on hold is Champ who has a trapped epiglottis and won’t be ready for Newbury,” said Henderson.

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Monday Musings: Of Champions – Past, Present and Future

The minute the decision was made to pull Constitution Hill out of a probable exhibition round that was going to double as his return to action at Ascot last weekend, you knew Nicky Henderson would merely shrug his shoulders and switch him to Newcastle, writes Tony Stafford.

What about 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante, long since pencilled in for a third consecutive challenge after one and a half wins (she shared the 2021 Fighting Fifth Hurd1e with Not So Sleepy)? Tough, she can run too, he reasoned. As I said here last week, he has plenty of previous.

The net effect: J P McManus, instead of collecting the owner’s share of £64,710, cedes that to Michael Buckley and gets instead £24,380. Lady Blyth, whose Not So Sleepy finished well to get within two and a half lengths of Epatante on ground faster than ideal, collected half of what would have been the case. Then again, J P has become used to that sort of thing over the years.

While Nicky looked on from Newbury, animatedly showing the cameras a real anxiety at the outcome, Buckers made the journey and shared in the wonder of it all with the viewers. Meanwhile, back at Newbury, Hendo was resplendent in the Cossack-style hat he had bought at the Peter O’Sullevan lunch on Thursday, a midwinter accoutrement for the master commentator, a man rightly still revered seven years after his death at the age of 97.

That generous gesture would have given Nicky some brownie points. J P is a leading light in the annual organisation of the charity event in memory of his late, great friend, which has provided so much welcome help to good causes, never needed more than in today’s straightened times.

For Henderson, the sight of Constitution Hill effortlessly drawing away from his older, female stable companion to the tune of 12 lengths must have been received with a mixture of pride and not inconsiderable relief. It may also mean that the three-year stranglehold on the top spot in hurdling by mares is about to end.

The trainer’s percentage remained whatever it is now of the £89k for Newcastle, on top of his automatic share in another £92k over two days at Newbury principally. On Friday J P McManus’ Champ – perhaps just as well – held off the fabulous finish of old adversary Paisley Park in the Coral Long Distance Hurdle, a win augmented by impressive novice winner Jet Powered earlier.

On Saturday, smart bumper performer Luccia stepped up in a very competitive fillies’ novice hurdle with a flawless performance on debut, almost in the Constitution Hill class, and First Street also impressed in the graduation hurdle against high class opposition. To complete the borderline obscenely successful weekend, Touchy Feely was an appropriate winner for Seven Barrows at Doncaster.

I have two post-scripts to the “do”. Ben Pauling was hard to reach on Friday morning, and when, finally he was contactable, he explained how tired he had been, understandable in view of the fact he got home from lunch at 1 a.m., replicating the sort of irresponsible behaviour that many used to exhibit at the annual Horserace Writers’ Awards lunch in London.

That pre-Christmas staple goes on at Lancaster Gate next Monday and I have received a welcome and most unexpected invitation. I promise I will make it home before midnight. (The following Monday we have family tickets for Cinderella. I better get into practice!)

The other amusing incident concerned a random meeting in the gents, mid-lunch between Henderson and Not So Sleepy’s trainer, Hughie Morrison. Hughie relates: “He wasn’t interested how Sleepy would run, just whether we would knock over one or other of his horses at the start or at the first hurdle.

“He asked, “which way does he hang?”, to which I replied: “Wherever the other horse happens to be!” That hardly placated him but, obviously, on the day he was as good as he ever has been and ran a blinder. Then again, going into last year’s Champion Hurdle, Sleepy was the highest-rated UK hurdler and his latest Cesarewitch run shows how unwise it is ever to under-estimate him.”

Top male hurdlers do not have an alternative championship race at the Cheltenham Festival, so trainers not keen to take on the now 4-7 shot Constitution Hill in the Champion, must either grin and bear it or wait for the 2m5f Aintree Hurdle. The mares have a couple of options at Cheltenham, and it would not be a shock if Epatante looked elsewhere after this summary lesson from her younger colleague.

What intrigues me more is the Honeysuckle situation that confronts Henry De Bromhead. His mare is on 16 wins unbeaten with two Champion Hurdles on the board. Does she carry on regardless and try for the hat-trick in the knowledge that her toughest challenge and most talented rival awaits? Or does she slip into a mares’ race to extend the unbeaten record?

You might almost wish her to have a hiccup in one of her prep races on the way. Such as being carried out at the start or first hurdle – don’t suggest Not So Sleepy! - so that it wouldn’t be numerically quite so vital. Then again there would be no shame or stud career implications in 16 and a couple more unbeaten and a second to Constitution Hill. If she did beat him – partisan Irish delirium and equine fame for as long as horses race over jumps awaits her. I hope they will meet next March for the Big Showdown on Prestbury Hill.

It's the big races that inevitably attract the most attention and are vital for the major stables that they collect their share of them. Over the past few years, the Dan Skelton stable has made a conscious decision to reduce its summer activity for a corresponding increase in concentration on the top end.

As the horses came to the closing stages of the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday, Harry Skelton on his brother’s Le Milos was being vigorously pursued by two David Pipe-trained horses, Remastered and Gericault Rogue. Going to the last Gericault Rogue was seen to be tiring just as Remastered came on, seemingly about to atone for last season’s unlucky fall four from home when going like the probable winner.

Yet, hard as he strived, Le Milos found that little bit more to deny him. The £142,000 the horse brought his owners, the Jolly Good Partnership, tipped Skelton over the £1 million mark for the season, for the eighth time in succession. He has 54 wins to his credit.

That makes him the nearest to former boss Paul Nicholls, who had three victories over the Newbury weekend taking his tally to 70 and earnings of £1,161K. Most wins have been collected by Fergal O’Brien, nearer the old Skelton model with summer activity, but that alone cannot explain away 90 wins. It’s almost a rewind to the old Martin Pipe days.

Martin’s son has been doing extremely well this season already and despite missing the big one on Saturday, he’s now on a faster-than-recently 50 for the season. Had the Skelton horse departed at the last fence – not that anyone could have wished such an eventuality – Pipe would have been pushing £800k rather than £634k!

Nicky’s 35 wins so far have brought him neatly onto a shade over half a million and with the massive expectations of Constitution Hill, Luccia and novice chase prospect Jonbon, all set to clean up in their various categories barring mishap, he’ll be making up the ground rapidly from now on.

Henderson agreed that the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton would be the obvious step for Constitution Hill, and that was the next step for his 2008 winner of the Fighting Fifth, which was run at Wetherby as Newcastle was off games.

At that time Ian Turner, now racing manager for the McNeill family, was the man behind a sponsorship offering a £1 million bonus for a horse that won all three races culminating in the Champion Hurdle.

Punjabi won that Wetherby leg and by coincidence Turner was at the Yorkshire track last week to see his boss’s hurdles debutant Spartan Army (£170k, ex-Joseph O’Brien) win impressively for Alan King. He looks a natural for the Triumph Hurdle although Gary Moore’s Leicester winner, Perseus Way, looks smart too.

As to the £1 million, Punjabi fell at Kempton before winning the Champion Hurdle. That cost owner Ray Tooth, his trainer and the stable staff a chunk of money! Were they bothered? Not once Punjabi and Barry Geraghty claimed the Festival showpiece at 33/1 they weren’t!

Finally, while we’re talking in terms of millions, congratulations to Ryan Moore who early yesterday morning won his second Japan Cup at Tokyo racecourse. Riding 7-2 third favourite, Vela Azul, a five-year-old stallion, he won the £2,593,463.46 to the winner race for trainer Kunihiko Watanabe and owners Carrot Farm Co Ltd in daring fashion. After his wonderful Breeders’ Cup meeting earlier in the month, this makes 2022 a year to treasure for the former champion.

- TS

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Monday Musings: Of Hughie’s Fighting Fifty-Fourth…

They could have done a better job of it. After all, the two ITV racing presenters, Ed Chamberlin and Francesca Cumani, on Saturday sitting in their studio at Newbury and principally watching the Ladbrokes (morally the Hennessy) Trophy Chase did have some high-grade professional help, writes Tony Stafford.

You would have thought Ruby Walsh, normally the best race reader among television pundits who knows exactly where every rider and horse are throughout every race, jumps or flat, and Sir Anthony McCoy would have known better.

Their preamble to the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at snowy, windy Newcastle was restricted by its proximity to Newbury’s feature, but A P found plenty of time to laud former Champion Hurdler Epatante and, after the thrilling finish, praise Nicky Henderson for getting her back in top shape.

It was a fan club all round rather than an objective appraisal and they got half their wish, Epatante clinging on for a share of the £88k combined first and second prizes. I’ll come to her co-star in a moment, after saying there was plenty of mention in the short time available beforehand for Paul Nicholls’ second favourite Monmiral, evergreen Sceau Royal, and the striking grey, Silver Streak.

One name missing from their deliberations was that of Not So Sleepy, making his return to jumping following an unplaced effort at Aintree after a much better fifth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, two places and just over three lengths behind Epatante but ahead of Silver Streak.

As such, these were the first three home-trained finishers in Honeysuckle’s first Champion Hurdle and, Buzz apart if he takes the shorter route, there isn’t too much around that will obviously subvert their position come March. Neither, on the evidence of yesterday’s outstanding Hatton’s Grace hat-trick by the Champion, will the now 13-race unbeaten record for the mare be challenged seriously any day soon.

Saturday’s partisan attitude would be understandable if Epatante was still being considered as having a chance to avenge her defeat, but it is routine enough for serious Champion Hurdle contenders to begin their season at Newcastle. Nicky Henderson has achieved more mind-boggling feats of a revivalist nature than this. She really must be the apple of A P’s eye. It certainly sounded it.

Now seven years of age, J P McManus’ mare is the veteran of 14 races and nine victories, the first two coming from three runs as a three-year-old in AQPS Flat races in her native France.

Not So Sleepy has also won nine races, four on the Flat and five over hurdles for owner-breeder Lady Blyth and trainer Hughie Morrison. He is rising double digits in age, a factor that never phases Morrison who can always point to the victory of his ten-year-old gelding Alcazar in the 2005 Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, a race in which the second and third home were respectively six years and seven his junior.

Not So Sleepy has had an unusual as well as a lengthy career for a high-class dual performer. He won first time out in October of 2014 as a juvenile over a mile and half a furlong at Nottingham. First time out at three, he was the narrow winner of Chester’s Dee Stakes, a Listed race but perhaps one long overdue a re-grading.

Successful before Not So Sleepy were Derby winners Oath (1999) and Kris Kin (2003), while since then, future Irish 2,000 Guineas and Breeders’ Cup winner Magical and the multiple Group 1-winning Circus Maximus (2019) have also won the race.

I was with the Oath team at the time and, forgive the after time, managed to get a nice price about Oath’s following up at Epsom from Simon Clare, Corals’ course rep at the time. If you think Not So Sleepy is long-lasting, then the same Mr Clare was presenting the prizes on behalf of Saturday’s sponsors to connections of Cloudy Glen who won the Ladbroke Trophy in the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings. Simon hardly looks a day older and deserves congratulations for the way he has sailed serenely through all the mergers and takeovers that have been so prevalent in the world’s biggest betting organisations.

The Chester 2015 win for Not So Sleepy understandably brought a reaction from the handicapper and he started life in that sphere on 107. Equally unsurprisingly, wins proved elusive and it was not until his 17th career run, on Oaks Day 2017, more than two years later, that he won a ten-furlong handicap off 98 under Adam Kirby.

Another 18 months were destined to pass with continued struggle meaning that not until January 19th 2019, after he had run 32 times, did Morrison experiment with hurdles. Sleepy ran three times, fourth running free at Kempton, then winning unchallenged at Wincanton before proving much too exuberant on a return to the West Country track where he finished a well beaten fifth of eight.

Back on the Flat and still with a mark in the 90’s, that summer he had a programme of six runs culminating with an excellent fourth of 30 to Stratum in the Cesarewitch. Here is where the Morrison imagination stepped in. Clearly believing a hurdles mark of 122 would be manageable given the jumping and the tearaway tendencies could be overcome, Morrison lined up an Ascot handicap that November. He bolted in and, a month later and raised just 5lb, he ran away with the £85k to the winner Ladbroke Hurdle back at Ascot on only his fifth jumping appearance.

Not So Sleepy was as a result one of the favourites for that season’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but after a couple of false starts he found himself on the wide outside of the massive field and was hampered at the start, losing all chance. His 15th of 24 was disappointing but not enough to dissuade connections of a Champion Hurdle challenge. This soon fizzled out as Epatante strode home up the hill to a popular success.

Back on the Flat he polished off a little race over a mile and a half in late summer at Pontefract under Graham Lee, the prelude to another fourth place in the Cesarewitch, as Willie Mullins completed a hat-trick in the great Autumn staying race.

That was the ideal preparation for another jumps campaign. Unfortunately in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle he set off in front but unseated Johnny Burke at the first hurdle. Chastened, Hughie and Lady Blyth sent him to more familiar surroundings of Ascot where he delivered win number two in the Ladbroke.

This time, it was doubly satisfying as Buzz, a horse Hughie had nurtured (I used that word about their relationship last week and I still like the sound of it!) through his early career but had been whisked off by connections to Nicky Henderson for jumping, could get no nearer than second.

Buzz, two years his junior, was well ahead of Not So Sleepy later on when second at Aintree and he has since won the Cesarewitch, denying Mullins a fourth consecutive win in the race by beating Burning Victory and then the Coral Hurdle this month.

Although only fifth in the Champion Hurdle of 2021, Not So Sleepy far exceeded his handicap mark. At the time he was 7lb clear lowest in the entire field on 149, raised briefly to 155 before Aintree but again down to 152 for Saturday.

Again in a big race, he improved on anything he had done before. Epatante had been dropped to 154 after last season’s Champion Hurdle, but she received 7lb from the geldings on Saturday. Sceau Royal, another length and a half back in third and fourth-placed Silver Streak were both on 158 while the disappointing Monmiral is rated 153.

After Sceau Royal the gaps were six and a half and then eight and a half lengths. It seems inevitable that Not So Sleepy should be raised to at least 158, so his highest-ever figure will have been achieved as a rising ten-year-old. Not many trainers could manage that!

As to the way the race evolved, the complete outsider Voix Du Reve, Not So Sleepy and the grey Silver Streak formed the leading trio all the way round with the others grouping behind them.

One acknowledgement of Not So Sleepy’s performance was forthcoming afterwards, one of the experts saying he had been in the lead group but still rallied at the end.

My contention is that had he bothered to jump either of the last two flights properly, he would probably have won outright, and the verve with which he battled back, running in between the other pair up the run-in after the second mistake, spoke volumes.

Tough doesn’t cover it and when you consider how most of the way round with his unusual head motion out to the right between the jumps, you got the feeling he was playing rather than racing in a championship race, that is doubly valid.

I don’t suppose as a ten-year-old he will end the trainer’s Champion Hurdle blank – and something would need to cause Honeysuckle to miss the race on yesterday’s showing. Yet as long ago as 2002, Marble Arch, another of his Ladbroke Hurdle winners the previous December, finished second to Hors La Loi in the Champion Hurdle with a very youthful Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

Hughie is on target for his usual tally of around 50 Flat wins but at a markedly highest-ever strike rate of 18%. It is widely accepted he can train anything - juveniles, champion sprinters, middle-distance stars or top stayers. Indeed if he hadn’t come up against a future Irish St Leger winner, Sonnyboyliston, running off a gift mark in the Ebor, he would have easily beaten his best prizemoney tally too.

And what of Not So Sleepy, a veteran of 54 races, yet sound as a pound and honest – if quirky – as the day is long? He no doubt will continue to thrill and entertain us hopefully for a year or two to come. Maybe after Newcastle A P and Ruby will give him a little more pre-race respect next time he turns up when they are on the telly!

- TS

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Race Histories 9 – The Fighting Fifth Hurdle

Bird's Nest

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain int' Peninsular War,
And Sam Small was cleaning his musket,
A thing that he’d ne’er done before. Read more

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