Nicky Henderson rules Constitution Hill out of the festival

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There will be a new name engraved on the Unibet Champion Hurdle trophy next week after reigning champ Constitution Hillwas ruled out of the race by his trainer Nicky Henderson.

The participation of last year’s emphatic winner has been in serious doubt since mucus was found in his scope after he trailed home well behind two stablemates in his final serious bit of work before the defence of his Champion Hurdle title at Kempton last Tuesday.

A subsequent blood test showed a “significant degree of inflammation” last week suggesting he was “definitely under the weather” in his trainer’s words. Constitution Hill was scoped again after light exercise on Friday and showed no signs of mucus and a reduction in neutrophil [a type of white blood cell] levels but Henderson warned Michael Buckley’s star hurdler would need to show “miraculous” improvement in his repeat blood test on Monday if he were to run at the festival.

While showing some signs of improvement, the results highlighted that he had yet to fully recover and Henderson was forced to rule him out of the festival.

“Very sadly, we are going to have to admit defeat in the battle to get Constitution Hill ready for the Champion Hurdle and therefore have to declare that he will not be running there this year,” said Henderson in a statement on Monday.

“He has undoubtedly improved over the weekend and seems noticeably brighter than he was at the end of last week, and I really do think he was much perkier when ridden this morning. Unfortunately, the all-important blood test shows that although the figures have improved they are quite a way from being satisfactory for a horse to commence serious training and race in a week’s time.

“There are three significant markers on the blood test, all of which have come down since Thursday’s sample, but are still raised enough to indicate that he has not fully recovered from whatever was ailing him. The only way to continue the improvement is not to stress him and he obviously cannot run in these Olympic Games if he’s not trained sufficiently.

“This is very sad for all of us and particularly Michael but it is in everybody’s best interests that we ensure we have a fit and healthy Constitution Hill to win back his crown next year. As no further bulletins will be required I would just like to say how much we have appreciated everybody’s support and messages over the last week.”

Unbeaten in eight starts for Henderson and the star of British jump racing, Constitution Hill has won seven consecutive Grade 1s and was long odds-on for the Champion Hurdle before disappointing in last week’s public workout.

In Constitution Hill’s absence, last year’s Champion Hurdle runner-up State Man now heads the sponsor’s betting at 4-11. Lossiemouth is next in the market at 7-2 but is an intended runner in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on the same day, while the Gordon Elliott-trained Irish Point is also priced at 7-2 and could be sent to the Champion Hurdle instead of Thursday’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle. Not So Sleepy, Pied Piper, Zarak The Brave and Constitution Hill’s stablemate Luccia are next at 14-1.

Despite adding to his top-level tally when landing the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on December 26, Constitution Hill gave two dirty scopes a week apart in mid-January that resulted in him missing a race on Festival Trials day at Cheltenham and has been seen in competitive action just once this season.

Courtesy of Racing Post

Jonbon and Nico De Boinville at morning schooling session at Nicky Henderson's Seven Barrows ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. PHOTO: Steve Davies