Constitution Hill will stay over hurdles this season, trainer Nicky Henderson has announced. The six-year-old is unbeaten in seven career starts to date, with six of those victories at Grade One level, including a nine-length triumph in last season’s Champion Hurdle.
Following Constitution Hill’s Aintree Hurdle verdict in April, Henderson, owner Michael Buckley and jockey Nico de Boinville discussed a possible switch to chasing over the summer. However, they have now decided to remain over the smaller obstacles, with another Champion Hurdle success the ultimate aim.
Henderson said: “The news on Constitution Hill is that after a lot of deliberating and a lot of advice from everybody in the world, because everybody wants a piece of this, he is going to stay over hurdles. At the end of the day I don’t think it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. People will ask if we’ve schooled him over fences and why have we come to this decision. He would jump fences with his eyes shut, if we wanted him to, but the basis of the decision was we had to be 100% sure that he would stay three and a quarter miles [in the Gold Cup].
“There was nothing to be gained by switching to fences by running in an Arkle, Champion Chase and possibly a Ryanair, great races though they are, but the Champion Hurdle is the Champion Hurdle, so if you are going to run in anything you might as well stick to what you know. I dare say there will be plenty of people saying this is unimaginative, but there was no doubt in Nico’s mind, stamina was likely to be a major issue and the only point in doing it was if one felt he could become a Gold Cup horse.
“For all three of us the decision was unanimous. You might say why did it take three months, but we all felt it was the right decision.”
Should Constitution Hill have gone down the chasing route, the dream was to emulate Dawn Run, the only horse to have won a Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. By staying over hurdles, such is his superiority over the division at the moment, the aim could be to match the five previous three-time winners, one of which is Henderson’s See You Then, or even potentially take the record outright with four.
“The great thing is he is young enough [to break records]. If you were going to go chasing it would have to be now,” said Henderson. “By not doing it, this is the decision for the time being but you never say never. He’s six now so he’ll be seven in March. Where we’ve been very lucky over the last two years is we’ve had very uncomplicated preparations, we’ve had two seasons without any issues. Any trainer will tell you there aren’t many horses who do that without a blip. We’ve had a really good run and you’ve got to have that luck.
“The main thing is we know exactly what we’ve got to try to do. We’ll start off in the Fighting Fifth, then there’s only 20-odd days until the Christmas Hurdle. This year what is different is they have moved the Unibet International to Trials Day at Cheltenham [27 January] when it used to be in December. That gives us another race potentially, before Cheltenham in March. We’ll see what happens after that because then you have Aintree and Punchestown.
“We have ummed and ahhed a bit, but if he can run around breaking track records over two miles, how on earth is he going to stay three and a quarter? He’s only had seven races in his life, three in his first year, the two at Sandown and the Supreme and then four last year. We want to run him as much as everybody hopefully wants to see him, moving the International gives us another opportunity.”