Nicky Henderson has confirmed both Constitution Hill and Jonbon remain on target for a clash in the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The unbeaten pair are both expected to line up in the Cheltenham curtain-raiser, whilst Walking On Air and I Am Maximus look set to run in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson also gives the rundown on several of his other stable stars, including Shishkin, Champ and Chantry House.
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He is good, and he was maybe a little underwhelming on Trials Day and I don’t think he jumped quite as well as he did at Ascot.
He did little wrong, and I said at the time and full credit to Emma (Lavelle) and her team with Paisley Park that he gave us 20 lengths start and still won and it was a very solid performance.
If I can get him back to where we were at Ascot he has got to be there or thereabouts. Ascot was really his first race for a really long time as he didn’t have a race in the Gold Cup.
The last race he actually had was in the Game Spirit at Newbury and whether he just bounced after Ascot we just don’t know. He was a better horse at Ascot than he was on Trials Day.
His problem in the Gold Cup was that he walked through the first, demolished the second and was pulled up before he fell over the third and it was a disaster.
Something was ailing him, and we had to work on it and the general feeling was that the less pressure you had to put on him jumping wise to keep it down to the minimum, so it was easier to jump hurdles than fences. He was in the Gold Cup, but it seemed the obvious thing to go for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
He will definitely go for the Gold Cup. The trial wasn’t earth shattering but we have reason to believe we have a little more up our sleeve.
He hasn’t really had a race since Aintree – he had a solo spin around Sandown, and he had a two mile gallop in the King George it didn’t work at all.
We put the cheekpieces on at Cheltenham and had talked about putting them on for the King George but the way he schooled and worked before the race he was flying.
He was coming back from the gallops like he was a two-year-old, but I thought he didn’t need the cheekpieces and I was wrong. We put them on in the Cotswold and I don’t say they made a great deal of difference, but they helped him get focused.
He was good and he got stuck in. I know the runner-up (Santini) pretty well and he was second in a Gold Cup. It is possibly very solid form and I think the Gold Cup has opened up a lot.
Nothing has jumped off the front page and stamped his authority on the race and it is up for grabs.
Constitution Hill, Jonbon
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Constitution Hill would stand there all day and would just lie down for you and that’s the way he just behaves through life.
They both worked on Saturday, and they have not worked with each other and will not work with each other. They would both get two and a half and it would ruin the party if we worked them together.
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I don’t want them ripping up trees and having dust-ups here as they would do too much. They are very, very good. With Constitution Hill, nothing will worry him, and he is very straightforward.
They are both good rides in the race – Jonbon can be a bit keen in the race sometimes but there is no danger of Constitution Hill being too keen.
Nico (de Boinville) will ride Constitution Hill and Aidan (Coleman) will ride Jonbon. If we had run him again nobody was going to take him on and there wasn’t anywhere else to go where you were going to get more than four or five runners in which case, he would just be doing the same thing.
They were both excellent this Saturday and they will work this Saturday and the following Saturday and that will be about it.
Constitution Hill is very laid back and will probably want to do more work than Jonbon, but Jonbon has had that extra run at Haydock, and you wouldn’t want to wind him up.
They will jump a hurdle at one stage – we will let them jump four hurdles, but we will probably do that the week before.
Willie (Mullins) has a couple and there is going to be plenty of opposition but it’s the best race to win on the whole card as if you get one on the board it takes the pressure off.
She will probably go to Kempton for a gallop, and she has done that before. She is in very good form, and we are very, very happy.
We set off at the start of the season and JP (McManus) said we have two objectives this year – the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle – and we nearly got it. We got one and a half anyway.
I thought she was great at Kempton, and she really looked like her old self. She was hurdling like she used to and to be honest she tanked Nico into the race, and we don’t always want to go that early, but she was all for getting home and getting back in bed as she was off and was good.
Nico is absolutely adamant there is no way she would get two and a half. She has been in totally different form this year and last year it all went a bit pear shaped after she won the Fighting Fifth.
I think she is at least back where she was when she won her Champion Hurdle – it may not have been the strongest field in the world, but I do think we are back in the right place.
We are getting very good vibes from her, and her form is good and it is the way that she has been doing it that I have liked and the way she has been doing it at home.
Honeysuckle is going to be very hard to beat she has looked and looked faultless, but we have all had horses that look like that and some day they come to an end. Altior got to 19 and all of a sudden thing went wrong.
I Am Maximus, Walking On Air
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Walking On Air and I Am Maximus would be our two for the Ballymore.
I Am Maximus’s form is very good – that horse of Henry Daly’s Hillcrest is a good horse and I think we nearly had him going to the last, but he might have just stayed a bit better than we did but it was still a good performance, and he will definitely run.
I think he is a classy horse.
We decided not to run Walking On Air on Wednesday – he is very good and took Newbury well but there were a couple of weeks where he wasn’t just moving like I would have wished.
I would have liked to get another run into him, but Nico is confident that if any horse can do it on one run it is him as he’s so professional. Nico is happy enough to do it.
She is going for the Mares’ race, and I am quietly looking forward to that. I think she is pretty good – she gets two and a half.
I thought she was an absolute rocket to start with and then she went wrong literally the week before Cheltenham when she was favourite for the Mares’ Novice.
Last year I couldn’t find her at all but this year she has come straight back except for the Lanzarote where she jumped straight into the back of another horse.
That wasn’t her fault otherwise he has been very good. She stuck her next out at Warwick and she quickened and galloped right the way to the line and was very strong at the end.
You would think the two and a half there is going to suit her. I am quite looking forward to running her.
There’s no way he can be a banker – it was a fantastic race at Ascot, and everybody loved it apart from Willie and myself and one of us knew we were going to go down.
It was great Shishkin came out in front but there wasn’t that much between them, and it looked like he had us in trouble too. He is a tough horse this – Willie is going to throw in Chacun Pour Soi too and you never want to underestimate him, and he could still be a big player.
There was only a length between them the other day and two months later the other way round possibly helps us but there is not much in it. He seems in very good form, and he hasn’t schooled since, but he doesn’t need too but he will do next week.
I would expect the same sort of tactics will be employed and I am there will be a good pace whatever happens. He has a different style of racing to an Altior or Sprinter Sacre and doesn’t have a similar exuberance and doesn’t stand of a mile away.
You would think he would get two and a half miles but there is no rush, and the Champion Chase is the Champion Chase and the one that we want.
Everyone got the race that they wanted at Ascot and yet it hasn’t spoilt the Champion Chase – there is very much room for round two. If one of them had won by ten lengths, you may have thought otherwise but it didn’t.