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‘If it is not clean by a week’s time, we aren’t going to get there’ - Constitution Hill’s Champion Hurdle participation hangs in the balance following a dirty scope

3 minute read

The Unibet Champion Hurdle market was seismically shaken on Tuesday morning after Nicky Henderson’s stable star was found to have scoped dirty following a racecourse gallop at Kempton.

Nico de Boinville winning The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on Constitution Hill.
Nico de Boinville winning The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on Constitution Hill. Picture: Racing Photos

Just days after the media visited Constitution Hill at Nicky Henderson's Seven Barrows barn in Lambourn, the majority of leading UK bookmakers were forced to suspend betting on next month's Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson's Constitution Hill, who was a general 1/4 chance to successfully defend his crown in a fortnight's time, seemingly worked poorly behind Sir Gino and an unconfirmed stablemate, rumoured to be Quick Draw.

Constitution Hill, whose owner Michael Buckley was in attendance, was partnered by Nico De Boinville for his all-weather exercise and heavily eased in the closing stages. Following the piece of work Nico de Boinville dismounted Constitution Hill before groom Jaydon Lee led him back to the unsaddling area.

Nicky Henderson confirmed the post-exercise scope showed "evidence of mucus" but suggested he wouldn't be "giving up hope" just yet.

"We just scoped him, and Jamie Knapp (vet) has had a good look at him, and he is fine stood there. I've got a sample here which I'm now going to take to our vets lab to have analysed. There is evidence of mucus in there, but nothing else. It is meant to be Gin clear, but it is not," explained Henderson.

Constitution Hill also missed an intended engagement on Trials Day at Cheltenham last month due to an unsatisfactory scope.

He added: "We had a period in January where he had much the same sort of thing and that is why he couldn't run in the Unibet Hurdle, and it seems as though it might have come back to haunt us. We need to see what the figures are as they will tell us straight away what is up, and we should have an answer later this afternoon.

Whilst evidently concerned over the actions that had unfolded before his eyes at Kempton on Tuesday morning, Henderson was by no means giving up hope on getting his stable star to Cheltenham in two weeks time.

"If it is just mucus, you can clear it up. The work has been done. The fact he didn't gallop all over them doesn't mean he hasn't done any work as he has still had a gallop," said the Seven Barrows handler.

He continued: "Of course, you are worried, and you would be crazy not to be as something has gone wrong and it seems as if the whole world knows already. He stopped like a horse that might have bled, but he hasn't, which is a good thing, but Jamie said there is significant mucus. Jamie said we can knock this on the head in a week if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you can't.

"We scope most of ours on a Monday morning. We did 10 yesterday and the figures were all fantastic and we didn't have one that was wrong, which was encouraging, then you find out the next day you have got one wrong, and it is him.

"Nico said he couldn't keep tabs on them but don't forget the other horses were quite good, but that was not right at all, so we must sort it out. We have not ruled him out at this stage. If it is not clean by a week's time, we aren't going to get there in another week.

"There is no point saying it is all over because it is not and you have got to try, we don't give up lightly. It is very significant as it stands. What it will tell us is if he is a sick horse or there is mucus in there, we can treat with a standard antibiotic. It is always typical that it is the good ones that get it. It is a bit of a shock to us as we have to cope with it and what goes with it."

One could only imagine how the next few hours would have felt for Henderson, who had already been forced to endure watching his leading Festival fancy trail home detached in front of the media, before seeing the sample of his stable star's dirty scope be sent off for examination.

A few hours passed and as promised by Henderson, an update was provided on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Tuesday afternoon confirming Constitution Hill would begin a course of antibiotics and would be re-scoped on Friday.

"The sample from his tracheal wash has shown a small increase in the number of neutrophils, indicating a respiratory infection which is significant but far from drastic," said Henderson.

"He will start a course of antibiotics immediately and we plan to re-scope him on Friday in order to monitor which way this is going. Both our own vet and the racecourse veterinary surgeon who scoped him feel we definitely have a chance of correcting this in time and we will be doing everything possible to do so."

Unbeaten in eight starts under Rules, Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old has only been sighted once on the racecourse this season, winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton by nine and a half lengths at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Paddy Power makes both Constitution Hill and State Man a 1/2 chance in their non-runner money-back market for the Champion Hurdle on March 12.

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: "We pulled the market after the Constitutional crisis and have now put it back up with Constitution Hill, who was 1-4 before the suspension, and State Man as 1-2 joint-favourites.

"Nicky certainly hasn't pulled stumps yet on his stable star and we're non-runner money back so if things go well his latest price could be very generous on the day, while if he doesn't make it to that even more famous hill, State Man has to be these odds as he has proved he is the best around bar one."

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