Cheltenham Festival News

Constitution Hill and Jonbon Cheltenham clash "almost certain"

By Harry Allwood@harry_allwood
Thu 20 Jan 2022

Nicky Henderson has said he is “almost certain” that Constitution Hill and Jonbon will take each other on in the SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Constitution Hill heads the betting at a general 11-4 for the opening race of the meeting following his hugely impressive win in the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, while Jonbon, who was last seen winning the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle in December, is a general 7-2 chance.

The exciting pair are yet to race over further than two miles under rules, and while it is an option for one of them to move up in trip and contest the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the Seven Barrows handler believes both deserve to take their chance in the Supreme.

Watch a full replay of Constitution Hill's Tolworth victory

“At the moment, I would say that Jonbon and Constitution Hill are almost certain to take each other on in the Supreme,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“I can’t see any reason to move either of them up. I think both will get two and a half if we wanted, but they both have different owners and both have the right to be there.

“They’re both potential chasers, they both won point-to-points in Ireland before they came over here and if they take each other on, then one thing for sure is that one of them will get beaten. Hopefully not both of them!

“Aidan (Coleman) has been riding Jonbon and Nico (de Boinville) has been riding Constitution Hill, so there’s no need for any change of plans there. I think unless one owner decides he wants to switch to two-and-a-half, then the chances are that they will take each other on (at Cheltenham). It is going to be fascinating, and I say they’re both horses hopefully with big futures.”

“Willie (Mullins) has got two as well, so it is not just about us - he’s got two very good two-milers and I thought Dysart Dynamo was very impressive last Sunday, so once Willie and that Irish team are taking us on, nothing is going to be easy.”

Jonbon en route to victory at Ascot (Pic: Focusonracing)
Jonbon en route to victory at Ascot (Pic: Focusonracing)

Henderson also confirmed that Constitution Hill will not run again before March, but Jonbon is set to warm-up for the Cheltenham Festival in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.

“Constitution Hill won’t run again before (the Supreme), Henderson said.

“Jonbon is going to Haydock on Saturday for the Rossington Main. He just needs another run before (the Supreme) just to settle him down a bit if anything. It won’t be very nice ground up there I don’t expect but I think it will do him good.”

The news jump racing fans have been waiting for was also confirmed on Thursday, with Shishkin and Energumene both declared to run in Saturday’s SBK Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

The high-class chasers will both put their unbeaten record over fences on the line in the two-mile showpiece which Henderson’s superstar heads the betting for at a general 4-6, while Willie Mullins’ Irish raider is chalked up at a best-priced 7-4.

Discussing the clash, Henderson said: “Well, it was going to happen sometime! I don’t suppose any of us expected that we would be obstinate or stupid enough to take each other on this early in the season, but it’s the race we wanted to go for. Willie wants to come too, and there is Kim Bailey’s horse [First Flow] as well, so that will at least guarantee a really good gallop.

“Even from last year, Energumene did not come over to Cheltenham and gave Shishkin a rather easier Arkle than it might have been, but the clash was going to have to happen sooner or later.

“I don’t think it necessarily tells you who will win the Champion Chase, but the one thing that will be certain is that whoever wins on Saturday will be favourite come March, but that doesn’t mean an awful lot and a lot of things can happen in the meantime.

“Shishkin has still got a bit to prove but we are going to find out a lot more this weekend,” Henderson added.

Reflecting on his reaction following Shishkin’s victory in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December, Henderson said that his emotions flowed due to the pressure he had been under to run the eight-year-old who bypassed the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December, which had been his intended seasonal debut.

“I think that was slightly down to the circumstances and a bit of the pressure we have been under prior to that,” Henderson admitted.

“I was not happy with the horse earlier in the year and it did turn out he was quite sick which a lot of people did not understand. Yes, I wanted to run in the Tingle Creek, but we couldn’t because he was not right and people have to understand that the horses come first and if they are not right there is not much point in running them.

“This time, we are coming in with a race under our belt. He is quite considerably lighter than he was at Kempton which I think tells you there is quite a lot of improvement to come, and Ascot should suit him. He jumped five fences this morning and seemed in great form.

“Nico has ridden him in work (last Saturday) and that was all a big thumbs up, so here we go. Hopefully there will be no excuses and it is going to be fascinating. I’ve been trying to organise a ferry strike all week, but I’ve failed, so Energumene is going to turn up!

“This year’s two-mile division looked, on paper, as if it was going to be a very strong one. I know Willie’s other horse [Chacun Pour Soi] is not playing at the moment but he’ll still come into the equation come Cheltenham, I’m sure. I think these are all very high-class horses in years to come and will hopefully prove that.

“We’ve had a few setbacks [this season] but those are to be expected. The novice hurdlers this year looked as if they might be a very decent bunch and I think with Jonbon and Constitution Hill, Balco Coastal and now Walking On Air they are for the future really, so we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

Henderson also provided a positive update on Chantry House who was pulled up in the King George on Boxing Day having never travelled or jumped with any fluency.

The eight-year-old, who was a dual Grade One winner last year having completed the Cheltenham-Aintree double, will bid to make amends for his below-par run in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day on January 29. Henderson said:

“Chantry House is in really good form. He schooled this morning as well. He seems in very good form, and he is going to Cheltenham next weekend for the Cotswold Chase.

“I’m not sure it was the ground at Kempton, as much as Kempton is a sort of unique track. We knew they would go off very quick and it’s just the first time he has had to race against older horses in a bigger field. They jump off and go from flag-fall, and it just caught him out a little bit early on.

“Nico had to be kind to him to be fair in the end. Hopefully we will see the real Chantry House back at his best next weekend.”

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