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I’m frightened of all of them, says Constitution Hill’s owner

Owner Michael Buckley remains wary of each of Constitution Hill’s rivals as the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding prepares to take his chance in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The five-year-old is the current favourite for the eagerly-awaited Festival curtain-raiser, a status he earnt with a pair of wide-margin successes in the two novice hurdles he has lined up in since joining the Lambourn stable of Henderson.

The first was a 14-length win on his rules debut at Sandown in December, after which he returned to the Esher track the following month to win again when making a steep step up to Grade One level in the Tolworth.

Successful in the latter race by 12 lengths, Constitution Hill is a best-priced 9-4 chance to claim a Cheltenham success over the likes of stablemate Jonbon and the Willie Mullins trio of Dysart Dynamo, Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard.

Sir Gerhard was a six-length winner at the Dublin Racing Festival, but having watched the race Buckley felt his jumping left something to be desired.

Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows
Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows (Tim Goode/PA)

“I didn’t think he jumped particularly well at Leopardstown, Willie said after the race that he’d missed a couple in the middle of the race, well he didn’t jump the last particularly well,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

“I thought he landed on his hind legs from memory, but having said that he beat a lot of what were purported to be good horses very easily.

“He’s a very strong travelling horse and he left a lot of horses a long way back.”

Dysart Dynamo took the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle by 19 lengths in January, but there are questions over the depth of the form and Buckley pointed to Constitution Hill’s Tolworth defeat of Jetoile, who was then last in the Betfair Hurdle, as an example of how unpredictable races can be in the novice hurdle division.

“Dysart Dynamo won by 19 lengths and I don’t know how good the horses were in the race,” he said.

Constitution Hill and his Cheltenham rival Jonbon
Constitution Hill and his Cheltenham rival Jonbon (Tim Goode/PA)

“I haven’t really studied it and also because they were running in Ireland, I don’t really know the form, but none of us know the form of these novice hurdles really.

“The horse that Constitution Hill beat in the Tolworth (Jetoile) was last in the Betfair, it’s a tall order to expect any horse to make all in the way that he tried to do.

“I don’t know if he was fine or whether they used the horse up too much, also making all the running in that race and trying to make the running in a small field in the Tolworth on much heavier ground are different things.”

Though Henderson and Mullins seem to hold all of the Supreme aces, Buckley is mindful the cards held by Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead are not to be dismissed and is also respectful of the threat posed by Kilcruit, a horse considered to be Mullins’ third string but one that seemed to rediscover some of the ability shown in bumpers when winning a maiden hurdle by 21 lengths at Punchestown in January.

“They’re all very unexposed, I’m frightened of all of them,” he said.

Constitution Hill winning the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle
Constitution Hill winning the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle (Steven Paston/PA)

“You talk about Willie’s and Jonbon, but Gordon will have something in it and Henry de Bromhead, there’s going to be, even in a small field, 12 or 14 runners, so you’re going to have to negotiate your way past a lot of good horses.

“Kilcruit might turn out to be a good horse, he was supposed to be, then he ran pretty poorly two or three times and now he’s come back to form.

“It’ll be a hard race and whoever wins it is going to have a really exciting prospect on their hands.”

The Supreme has a roll of honour that includes some of Henderson’s brightest stars, with both Shishkin and Altior claiming the race at the beginning of their careers, and the prospect of Constitution Hill adding his name to that list is a thrilling one for Buckley.

“It is possible that he could turn into on the those extraordinary horses, like Shishkin or Altior,” he said.

“It would be pretty damned exciting, I’ll say that.”

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