Constitution Hill ruled out of Champion Hurdle defence at Cheltenham Festival

Blood test shows that last year’s winner has ‘not recovered’ from ailment; Willie Mullins’s State Man now favourite

Constitution Hill, the brilliant and unbeaten winner of last season’s Champion Hurdle, will not defend his crown on the opening day of next week’s Cheltenham Festival after Nicky Henderson, his trainer, was forced to admit defeat on Monday in his efforts to get the seven-year-old ready for the meeting.

In a statement released on his X (Twitter) account on Monday afternoon, Henderson said that while Constitution Hill had “undoubtedly improved over the weekend”, an “all-important blood test shows that although the figures have improved, they are quite a way from being satisfactory for a horse to commence serious training and to race in a week’s time.”

The statement continued: “There are three significant markers on the blood test, all of which have come down since [last] Thursday’s sample but are still raised enough to indicate that he has not fully recovered from whatever was ailing him. The only way to continue the improvement is not to stress him and he obviously cannot run in these Olympic Games if he’s not trained sufficiently.”

Constitution Hill’s participation at next week’s Cheltenham Festival has been in doubt since he finished many lengths behind his galloping companions in a workout at Kempton Park six days ago.


“This is very sad for all of us and particularly Michael [Buckley, the gelding’s owner],” Henderson said, “but it is in everybody’s best interests that we ensure we have a fit and healthy Constitution Hill to win back his crown next year.”

Constitution Hill is already seen as one of the sport’s greatest hurdlers, having rarely come out of second gear on the way to eight straight victories including wide-margin wins at the last two Cheltenham Festivals. Circumstances have conspired against him in the current season, however, with Henderson feeling obliged to scratch Constitution Hill from his intended reappearance at Ascot in November due to fast ground, a week before a wasted trip north for the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle, which was abandoned due to frost.

Henderson’s gelding was also ruled out of a run in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in January due to a poor scope, leaving an easy victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on St Stephen’s Day as Constitution Hill’s sole entry in the form book this season.

In his absence, Willie Mullins’s State Man, the comfortable winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in early February, is now certain to set off as the odds-on favourite for the Champion Hurdle.

The seven-year-old has lost only one of his 11 completed starts since joining Mullins’s stable in the summer of 2020: a nine-length defeat by Constitution Hill in last year’s Champion Hurdle.

State Man is top-priced at 2-5 in the ante-post market, with his stable-companion Lossiemouth – who is also favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle later the same day – next in the list at 4-1 and Gordon Elliott’s Irish Point, previously seen as a leading contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle on 14 March, a point bigger at 5-1.

Mullins has seemed insistent in recent days that Lossiemouth, last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner, would not be rerouted to the Champion, but confirmation that Constitution Hill will be missing from next week’s field can only fuel speculation that both Lossiemouth and Irish Point will be aimed towards the showpiece event on the Festival’s opening-day card.

The scratching of Constitution Hill also leaves just two clear ante-post favourites from British stables ahead of next week’s 28-race showpiece event of the National Hunt season. Jonjo O’Neill’s Crebilly is a 4-1 shot for the Plate Handicap Chase on March 14th, while Henderson’s Sir Gino is 4-6 for the Triumph Hurdle the following afternoon. – Guardian