Constitution Hill is a MAJOR doubt for the Cheltenham Festival after the star of National Hunt racing’s routine gallop ended in drama… leaving his owners shocked by his poor run

  • The Champion Hurdle favourite was taken to Kempton Park on Tuesday
  • But the star was labouring on the first circuit and eventually dropped behind  

Constitution Hill, the star of National Hunt racing, is a huge doubt for the Cheltenham Festival after a routine gallop ended in drama.

The reigning Champion Hurdler, who boasts a perfect record of eight wins from eight starts, was taken to Kempton Park by trainer Nicky Henderson on Tuesday morning for what is commonly described as ‘an away day’.

It was Henderson’s plan for Constitution Hill to work with Sir Gino, who is favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, and another unheralded stablemate to put him right ahead of his title defence in two weeks. The idea was for the triumvirate to gallop around Kempton’s all-weather track twice.

But Constitution Hill – usually such a powerful mover – was labouring on the first circuit and by the time they came around again, he had dropped behind leaving Henderson, owner Michael Buckley and former jockey Barry Geraghty, who sourced the horse, aghast.

Nico De Boinville, his regular jockey, dismounted Constitution Hill immediately after the finishing line and the horse was led back to the racecourse stables, where he was scoped by vets. The results showed that he had a significant amount of mucus.

Constitution Hill is a major doubt for the Cheltenham Festival after a routine gallop ended in drama

Constitution Hill is a major doubt for the Cheltenham Festival after a routine gallop ended in drama

Though Henderson will not make a kneejerk decision and call time on his Champion Hurdle bid, all major betting firms initially suspended their markets. Constitution Hill’s remains the joint odds-on favourite at 1/2 at the time of publication.

Constitution Hill will now undergo further tests back at Henderson’s Seven Barrows stables but the chances of him making the start in a fortnight are receding. What makes this more concerning is the fact it is the second time he has scoped badly this winter.

Henderson had planned to run Constitution Hill in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham on January 27 but an unsatisfactory test forced him to scrap that plan. For it to have happened again so quickly suggests that the problem may be deeper rooted in his viral system.

‘Unfortunately Constitution Hill did not work as expected at Kempton this morning and obviously we have a problem which is desperately disappointing for all of us,’ Henderson said.

‘He was scoped immediately afterwards which showed he had excess mucus in his lungs which would obviously affect performance. This is pretty similar to the picture we got before he couldn’t run in the Unibet Hurdle in January. 

‘In the meantime he has been 100 per cent and his work has been excellent so today’s performance was a big shock. A sample is currently in the laboratory and we should have the result later this afternoon which will give us a clue as to what we are dealing with.

‘It is perfectly possible to clear this with antibiotics and could easily resolve within a week and as all the work he needs has virtually been completed, we will have to monitor the situation for the time being.

‘It is obviously going to be a race against time but we have got to try and get him there if at all possible, so I certainly wouldn’t rule anything in or out at this particular moment.

‘We will know more when we get the result from the sample and will keep everybody in the picture.’ 

If the worst happens and Constitution Hill does not make it, it would be a huge blow not only for Henderson and Buckley – who absolutely adore their horse and understand what he means to the public – but also to the Festival in general.

Constitution Hill has been heralded as potentially the greatest hurdler of all-time and is the headline act for the four days. His performances at the last two Festivals were jaw-dropping and many could not envisage anything other than him running amok next month, either.

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