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Constitution Hill and Jonbon preparing to battle for supremacy

Nicky Henderson welcomed the press into his historic Seven Barrows yard on Monday morning where several of his Cheltenham Festival big guns were on parade.

Two of them were shown together, just as they will be come the opening race of the meeting in three weeks, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Henderson was keen that Constitution Hill and Jonbon were brought out of their boxes at the same time, quipping, “they aren’t going to be split up in three weeks so you may as well see them at the same time”.

There had been musings that one of the pair may be stepped up in trip so that he did not have to run two of his brightest prospects against each other. But while Henderson is confident neither would have trouble staying further in time, their best prospect of winning next month comes in the two-mile championship.

Nicky Henderson at home with his dog at Seven Barrows on Monday
Nicky Henderson at home with his dog at Seven Barrows on Monday (Tim Goode/PA)

“It’s the plan to run them both (in the Supreme), but they are like cheese and chalk. Constitution Hill would stand in front of everyone all day and that is how he is in life. The other horse is the complete opposite, but he did behave well today. He’s usually hyper,” said Henderson.

“They are all in good form and both worked on Saturday, but not with each other and they will not, that’s too obvious, we may as well find out in three weeks. They don’t need to work together and it would ruin the whole party if we knew the answer!

“They would both get two and a half (miles) but we don’t want trials here, so there’s no point in working them together. The only time we did it with good horses was Simonsig and Sprinter (Sacre) for a couple of years as they were the only ones who could go with each other.

“If they galloped together they’d have a dust up and I don’t want that. They are very, very good.”

Although smart novice hurdlers were thin on the ground for Henderson last season, this year it is the opposite.

Aside from fielding two of the favourites in the Supreme, Walking On Air and I Am Maximus will head to the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with claims.

“We decided not to run Walking On Air at Doncaster this week as for a couple of weeks I just wasn’t overly happy with him after Newbury. I’d have liked another run, but Nico (de Boinville) is confident if any horse can do it off one run, it’s him,” said Henderson.

“I Am Maximus has very good form, he was probably just outstayed by Henry Daly’s horse (Hillcrest) who is going for the Albert Bartlett.”

Epatante poses for the cameras
Epatante poses for the cameras (Tim Goode/PA)

Epatante might be in the strange situation of being a former Unibet Champion Hurdle winner running in the race as something of a forgotten horse given how Honeysuckle has dominated the division.

“We started this year and JP (McManus, owner) said we had two objectives, the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle and we got one and a half as we dead-heated in the Fighting Fifth!” said Henderson.

“I had it half in my mind that we could go up in trip for the Mares’ Hurdle and I said as such coming off the Kempton stand to JP, but I said we’d see what Nico said – anyway he said one word, ‘no’, so that was that.

“She’s just all speed and doesn’t want to be going over further than two miles.

“Honeysuckle does look very good, she’ll be very hard to beat, but I do think we are back to where she was when she won her Champion Hurdle, though I’ll admit that might not have been the strongest ever run.”

Horses return from the Seven Barrows gallops
Horses return from the Seven Barrows gallops (Tim Goode/PA)

Henderson will be represented in the Mares’ Hurdle by Marie’s Rock, who was very impressive at Warwick last time out.

“She looked special as a novice and then had to miss the Festival with a setback the week before,” said Henderson.

“I couldn’t get her back at all last year but this year has been more like it, bar the Lanzarote where she jumped into the back of one.

“I’m quietly looking forward to her, she’s pretty good.”

Henderson, who confirmed Dusart will run over three miles in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, will also be searching for a third win in the Gold Cup with Chantry House, a winner at the Festival as a novice last term.

“His win in the Cotswold wasn’t earth shattering, but we’ve reason to believe we’ve a little bit more up our sleeve,” said the man with 70 Festival winners to his name.

“He hadn’t really had a race since Aintree as he had a two-horse race at Sandown and a two-mile gallop in the King George, which didn’t work at all.

“We went with the cheekpieces last time, there was talk of doing it before the King George, I was against it as he looked so well on the gallops and schooling but I was wrong.

“It looks an open Gold Cup this year, nothing has really bounced out. It’s up for grabs.”

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