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'We longed to run - don't blame Nicky' says Constitution Hill owner Buckley

Constitution Hill and Nico de Boinville romp home in the Supreme Novice Hurdle.Cheltenham Festival day 1.Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post15.03.2022
Constitution Hill: 'He's obviously very good – he's exceptional'Credit: Patrick McCann (

The heavyweight punch-up between Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle is off for the time being – and the former's owner Michael Buckley insists the decision to swerve the clash should not lead to criticism of trainer Nicky Henderson.

Among Henderson's most enduring owners, Buckley was speaking on Monday when news broke his phenomenal Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner was finished for the season, which means he will not meet unbeaten hurdling queen Honeysuckle in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday week.

That will disappoint many, but Buckley hopes Henderson, criticised by some when Shishkin missed the Tingle Creek in December, is not on the receiving end of more "disgraceful" flak.

Michael Buckley: 'I saw him at the Lambourn Open Day and I thought he looked like he'd done enough for this year'
Michael Buckley: 'I saw him at the Lambourn Open Day and I thought he looked like he'd done enough for this year'Credit: Edward Whitaker

The owner, whose exciting five-year-old would have been in line for £100,000 bonus from Paddy Power had he won in Ireland, said: "I find it extraordinary that when Nicky has talked or intimated about plans for one of his high-profile horses and then decides the horse isn't quite right, he gets a huge amount of flak, whereas Willie [Mullins] or Gordon [Elliott] don't seem to. Nicky, and I'm not sure why, gets a huge amount of criticism for not running his horses when he doesn't think they are as well as they should be.

"I imagine the people he gets it from don't know anything about horses. I think it's disgraceful and if people want to see good horses run they should respect the trainers and – to a far lesser degree, because the trainers are with them every day – the owners.

"People long to run their horses in great races and I'd have loved to have gone to Ireland and, if I thought the horse was in a place to do his very best, I'd do it in a flash, but I don't think he is, so therefore we won't go. If Paddy Power said they'd give us an extra quarter of a million we still wouldn't go."

Buckley confirmed the Lambourn-based Henderson and he were in tune when deciding Constitution Hill – who earned a BHA figure of 170 for his monster effort in the Supreme, making him the highest-rated novice since the Anglo-Irish Jump Classifications were founded in the 1999-2000 season – was due a holiday.

"The whole thing got slightly run away with," he added. "I said to Nick Luck on television in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way that it would be fun to take Honeysuckle on if we won really impressively in the Supreme, but I never said if we win impressively we'll take her on. I hadn't seen him since Cheltenham but saw him at the Lambourn Open Day on Friday and I thought he looked like he'd done enough for this season, which Nicky agreed with.

"He'll go off to the field for a nice happy time over the summer now. People think when horses win a long way they have easy races, but you don't do what he did at Cheltenham unless you actually lay yourself on the line big time.

"He's obviously very good – he's exceptional."

Constitution Hill (Nico de Boinville) wins the Supreme Novices HurdleCheltenham 15.3.22 Pic: Edward Whitaker
Constitution Hill: bolts up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in MarchCredit: Edward Whitaker

Connections confirmed the son of Blue Bresil would not go chasing next season, which means a date with Honeysuckle could come in the 2023 Unibet Champion Hurdle. She can be backed at 7-2 for that, while the sport's next potential superstar is generally 2-1.

Henderson cannot wait to see how the youngster develops over the summer and said: "He's a big, raw horse and there's an awful lot of improvement to come physically. He's got a lot of filling out to do and I just don't feel like getting to the bottom of him now.

"It was a hard decision, but hopefully there's time to meet Honeysuckle – we've just got to mind our one a bit for now. It would have been fun to do it and we wanted to, but we're thinking of the right thing for the horse's long-term future and this would have been a pretty wild expedition.

"We had to take the sensible view and enough people have come up to me in the last fortnight and said, 'You can't do this, surely?' I don't say I listen to public opinion, but they were right and looking at it from the same angle we were.

"He'll stay hurdling next season and we can clash with her at Cheltenham, which is our home ground, but she's bloody good round there, although we'll be a year older and stronger – you've got to remember he's had only three races in his life."

Henderson's 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante, second to Honeysuckle at Cheltenham before winning the Aintree Hurdle, is in the Punchestown equivalent, although she also has the option of the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle, in which the Seven Barrows stable has entered Marie's Rock.

"I'll speak to JP [McManus] about Epatante as she's in the two races, the Champion and the mares' race," he said. "Marie's Rock definitely runs in the mares' race."

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James BurnLambourn correspondent

Published on 18 April 2022inNews

Last updated 19:52, 18 April 2022