The ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March, Constitution Hill was intended to make his seasonal bow at Ascot in the Coral Ascot Hurdle last Saturday, but ground conditions at the Berkshire track saw the Seven Barrows star withdrawn on the day of the race.
That caused attention to turn to Newcastle where the five-year-old was one of six possible runners confirmed at the five-day stage for the Gosforth Park Grade One – a race won by Henderson five times in the last six years and which will also feature stablemate and race regular Epatante.
Now Henderson has decided Constitution Hill will travel to the north east alongside his stablemate and said to the PA news agency on Wednesday morning: “Constitution Hill will run at Newcastle on Saturday.”
He added in a call organised by Newcastle racecourse: “Michael (Buckley, owner) and I have discussed it ever since the weekend and it was very much a toss-up between going to Newcastle or waiting for the International at Cheltenham.
“And Michael decided yesterday that he, probably quite rightly, wanted to run at Newcastle. He said, ‘come on let’s go to Newcastle’.
“The horse is fit and well and if we wait another fortnight anything could happen. Also bear in mind the weather could stay like it has done down south, I’ve just been walking round Newbury – I got drowned this morning, but they are having to chuck water on it to keep this good ground, so we can’t risk that.
“With the news that Newcastle has some soft bits in it and it’s nice slow ground we decided we have to get on with it and go. He was very fit and well last weekend and hopefully he is this weekend.”
Henderson also revealed that Epatante will join Constitution Hill in the final line-up as the JP McManus-owned mare bids for a hat-trick in the race, having dead-heated 12 months ago with Not So Sleepy.
“Perhaps in the beginning we were hoping Constitution Hill and Epatante didn’t have to meet at this stage of the season, but the dice has gone that way and we have to let them both run,” said the trainer.
“The Grade One races are patterned so by coming here you get into the Christmas Hurdle. If they had to meet anywhere the idea was that it would be there (Kempton), but that wasn’t to be and consequently they have to take each other on now and there will be plenty of others taking us on, too – it will be a proper Grade One race.”
Although a former Champion Hurdle winner, Epatante is rated 14lb inferior to Constitution Hill, with Henderson admitting he does not know just how good the latter could be.
He continued: “She’s won it twice, won three Grade Ones last year and was second in the Champion Hurdle. She got as close to Honeysuckle as any horse did last year.
“She has every right to be at the top of a Grade One race. The trouble is we don’t know what Constitution Hill is to be honest with you. It was a freakish performance on all three occasions last year. The Tolworth was the first glimpse we had of what might be there and the Supreme was ridiculous that he could do that to Jonbon, who I thought was seriously top-class.
“Epatante’s prep has been good and has been identical to last year and the year before.
“Newbury always have a gallops morning and Constitution Hill didn’t come to that day, but Epatante has always galloped on that Tuesday and did so again last week. She had a nice spin round over two miles then worked again on Monday so that’s her work done with.
“Aidan’s (Coleman, jockey) feeling is – and I would probably agree – that she is further ahead than she was this time last year.
“It was a very messy race going to the last (in 2021) – the traffic wasn’t exactly flowing her way towards the end, and she did get held up a bit.
“And she might have come on for it because she was mighty impressive in the Christmas Hurdle and was miles ahead of Not So Sleepy that day. We think she is really well.”
Barry Orr, spokesperson for the sponsors, is delighted at the prospect of a race to savour.
He said: “As sponsors we are obviously delighted with the news. It’s not only great for the race but also for the National Hunt game in general that Nicky, with the respective owners, have elected to run both horses.
“That competitive element has been sadly lacking in recent renewals of the race, but this is a step in the right direction and will make the Fighting Fifth the must watch race of the weekend.”
Ahead of Thursday’s declaration stage, Betfair make Constitution Hill 4-11 (from 5-4) and go 3-1 Epatante (from 8-11), 10-1 Not So Sleepy, 12-1 Pied Piper, 14-1 Tommy’s Oscar and 100-1 Voix Du Reve.