01 February 2023

Henderson expects Leopardstown events to make Cheltenham picture clearer

01 February 2023

Nicky Henderson expects to have a clearer idea of who will prove the main danger to Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle after this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Constitution Hill is unbeaten under rules, making light work of a string of Grade One races when winning by facile margins, with the six-year-old a hot favourite at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle has dominated the contest in the past three seasons but after losing her undefeated record to Teahupoo at Fairyhouse in December, she is on a redemption mission as she clashes with Willie Mullins’ State Man in Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Henderson expects the contest to provide a better picture of the Champion Hurdle field and further inform his decision on where to send Epatante, winner of the race in 2020 before being placed behind Honeysuckle for the past two years.

Epatante was well beaten by Constitution Hill in both the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle, but landed a Grade Two mares’ event at Doncaster by six and a half lengths last week.

Speaking to Sky Sports Racing, Henderson said of Constitution Hill: “The only thing that’s really happened since the Christmas Hurdle that would encourage you is that Epatante, who has been running round and finishing quite a way behind him on the last two occasions, comes out and, admittedly against much, much weaker opposition, but in a Grade Two hurdle last Saturday she won as far as she liked.

“That actually proves that Constitution Hill has been beating something, that’s about the only thing that has changed since Christmas.

“Epatante will go for the Mares’ Hurdle or the Champion Hurdle, I haven’t spoken much to JP (McManus, owner) about that but she proved she stayed two and a half (miles) and won really nicely at Aintree last year.

“We’ll see what JP wants to do, you’ve got Epatante there as a back up if Constitution needs a back up. That’s going to be very interesting, to see what happens this weekend and see how they all get on.

“Honeysuckle and Willie’s horse (State Man) will tell us quite a lot and I think the decision on Epatante will probably be made as a result of what we see there.”

Henderson is also expecting the Arkle field to take shape after the Dublin Racing Festival, with the current favourite Jonbon set to head to Warwick for the Grade Two Kingmaker before preparing for the Festival in March.

“Jonbon is in good form, he worked yesterday and will school tomorrow,” he said.

“He’s on course for Warwick, he’s in great shape actually. He just wants one more run, he’s had a nice freshen up since the Henry VIII and hopefully this will put him right for the Arkle.

“We will be watching quite carefully, the good thing is that Constitution Hill and Jonbon don’t have televisions in their boxes so they won’t know what’s going on!”

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