Skip to main content

Constitution Hill (right) disappoints in a racecourse gallop at Kempton. Photograph: Edward Whitaker/Racing Post Photos

Hot Cheltenham Festival favourite works badly at Kempton

Horse produced mucus in stable scope after workout

Greg Wood (The Guardian)

Constitution Hill’s chance of following up his impressive success in last year’s Champion Hurdle appeared to be hanging by a thread on Tuesday, after Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten hurdler was found to have mucus in his lungs shortly after a lacklustre pre-Cheltenham gallop at Kempton.

Constitution Hill was a general 1-4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday morning, but bookmakers immediately suspended betting on the race, the feature event on the opening day of the Festival meeting on 12 March, as news of the gallop filtered through. State Man, the second-favourite, had shortened from 3-1 to 5-2 with several firms prior to the suspension.

The seven-year-old was exercising with Sir Gino, the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle on 15 March, under his big-race jockey, Nico de Boinville. He was eased significantly towards the end of the gallop, finishing many lengths adrift of his four-year-old stable companion.

“Unfortunately, in a routine gallop this morning, Constitution Hill was very disappointing, and it transpires, after the vet has scoped him, that there is evidence of mucus,” Henderson said on Tuesday.

“We’re taking a sample of it to a laboratory to analyse it, which will tell us about the significance of it and we should know more after that. Last week, he worked brilliantly and he was scoped 10 days ago, but these things happen, just like it did with him earlier in the year [when Constitution Hill missed his intended Festival prep race in late January]. Horses are like humans, look how many people had the awful cough around Christmas that took ages to get rid of.”

Henderson is no stranger to dramas around Champion Hurdle favourites, as Binocular, the winner of the race in 2010, had seemingly been ruled out of the race with a muscle problem a month earlier. The same horse was ruled out of a title defence just two days before the race the following season, as a steroid being used to treat an allergic reaction had failed to clear his system.

Henderson added: “The vets still think it could clear up in a week and all his serious work has been done already, whether he makes it [to Cheltenham] will depend on the severity of it. He would normally go easily with him [Sir Gino], but this morning he couldn’t, so Nico realised all was not well and wasn’t hard on him. Obviously, the mucus was affecting him. He’s not coughing, he’s just got a dirty picture, as we say. I’m not saying definitely either way [about the Champion Hurdle] and I’ll keep hoping. As you can imagine, it has come as a bit of a shock.”

With most firms offering money back on non-runners in their ante-post markets, many lists were in the unusual position of making both State Man and Constitution Hill odds-on shots for the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday evening.

Unibet, however, which sponsors both the Champion Hurdle and Henderson’s stable, is still “all-in”, and makes State Man the new favourite at 4-5, with Constitution Hill available at 5-4.

The firm then quote Lossiemouth, a stablemate of State Man at the Willie Mullins yard and current favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle the same afternoon, at 9-1, with Gordon Elliott’s Irish Point, the second-favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle on 14 March, available at 14-1 to make a successful switch to the Champion.