Nicky Henderson warmed up for a huge Boxing Day with a four-timer across both Ascot and Haydock on the final day of action before Christmas.

The two biggest names in Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard, Constitution Hill and Shishkin, will make their seasonal debuts at Kempton on Tuesday, in the Ladbrokes-sponsored Christmas Hurdle and King George VI Chase respectively. The first half of the season has not gone to plan for either of them, giving Henderson sleepless nights in the process.

Constitution Hill was due to run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, with the meeting lost to the weather only to be rearranged for a week later. Henderson did enter him for the rescheduled event at Sandown, but heavy ground prevented him from running.

He was meant to be joined in the rearranged Fighting Fifth by Shishkin – but he also sidestepped it for the same reason, having also missed out at Newcastle in the Rehearsal Chase. The latter had been an original Plan B after he blotted his copybook by refusing to race at Ascot.

Henderson was at Ascot to witness French import Excello win the Howden Graduation Chase and Luccia lead home stablemate Impose Toi in the Betfair Exchange Trophy, while Issuing Authority and Pawapuri got their heads in front at Haydock.

“It’s always nice when the horses are running well. You’ve got to make the most of it because you can get bad patches, but they are being very well behaved at the moment,” said the 73-year-old.

“It doesn’t make me any less nervous for Tuesday as they are all doing different things.

“Those first two up at Haydock were good and I was very impressed with the mare (Pawapuri) and I was impressed with him (Excello) too.”

While Henderson allows himself to enjoy the festivities, he admits his mind will be wandering elsewhere.

“I enjoy seeing the people over Christmas and then the family on Christmas Day, but you are chomping a bit. Your head is still buzzing about what is to come,” he said.

“The most important part is the team behind it and they’ve got to work solidly over this weekend. A lot would prefer to be elsewhere but we can’t do that, we’ve got to mix in, rally together and keep our heads down.”

As for his big two, he will just be pleased to finally get a run into the pair of them.

“They were all right this morning, but you only need them to tread on a peanut and they could be lame tomorrow, it’s not that easy,” he said.

“Shishkin has been away but nothing very dramatic that we wouldn’t normally do, pretty routine.

“I’ve had some very entertaining suggestions about how we can persuade him to start. I can’t personally say I’m not worried about it, of course I am, but I really don’t think it’s a big problem, I really don’t.

“Someone will go down to the start with him and I just need to check with the starter what we can and cannot do. What I think you can’t do is carry anything, certainly not a Long Tom (whip). If we could do that it would be simple. He’ll be all right.

“He’s in good form, I would have loved to have had a race, but we haven’t – there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m pleased with the way the last week has gone.

“As for the other lad (Constitution Hill), we’ve got three more sleeps, something like that.

“When you have a horse with his mentality, all the messing about hasn’t bothered him. He makes it easier than most horses would.

“His temperament is due to his father, Blue Bresil, he’s passed the genes on and they are so relaxed.

“You still have to remember you are starting a new season and they don’t always come back the same, this is no given.

“If he comes through this and it goes like last year I’d be confident about the next bit. But the first day out of the year is crucial, it’s like a first day at school. He’s been good at home, but there are new kids on the block and he’s starting a new term.”

Nicky Henderson’s exciting French import Excello upset odds-on favourite Solo when running out a ready winner of the Howden Graduation Chase at Ascot.

In a contest previously won by the likes of Top Notch, Riders Onthe Storm and L’Homme Presse, Solo set out to lead all the way and looked comfortable enough out in front.

However, four-year-old Excello was also travelling well and jumped alongside the pacesetter at the third-last before powering past him on the home turn.

Two good jumps up the straight allowed Nico de Boinville just to keep his mount focused for an impressive six-and-a-half-length success over two miles and five furlongs.

The 11-4 scorer was a winner over fences at Auteuil in March, and Henderson said: “The whole plan was to go novice hurdling this season and then to come back chasing not as a novice.

“But the way he is doing that, would you really want to go back to novice hurdling? You may as well get on and do what he’s good at – and that’s jumping.

“He went a bit left a few times, but you wouldn’t be worried about that. At Ascot, you will always see them just wander that way, it’s a natural trait.

“We schooled him Tuesday to see if this is something we could do and he was so good. I wouldn’t bring too many four-year-olds here to jump those fences.

“That’s probably the handicap mark gone out the window as well, so that (route) is not an option. He’s five at Christmas, so he loses that four-year-old slight advantage.

“It’s very French and they have already run over fences as a three and four-year-old – and this is Mr Henderson trying to parler francaise.”

There was heartbreak for followers of Harper’s Brook when he threw away victory in the Howden Handicap Chase by faltering close home, allowing Triple Trade to claim a dramatic triumph.

Kielan Woods set a fast pace on Harper’s Brook, who ran his rivals ragged and jumped superbly throughout, with a big leap at the last fence looking sure to have sealed it.

However, he stopped to a near-walk on the run-in and Triple Trade swooped in the dying strides under Brendan Powell to oblige by half a length at 9-4.

Winning trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He hasn’t actually had his ground this season because he wants soft ground, but he’s winning anyway and had he not missed four out, which he missed badly, he would have been able to travel a bit longer, because when he hits the front, he doesn’t do a great deal.

“I would have taken second jumping the last and then the horse in front tied up. Brendan said he felt like he was treading water going to the last and then the horse got competitive again when he was closing in (on Harper’s Brook).

“He was a cheap horse and the owners are very good boys and we’re having a lot of fun with him. This time last year, we pulled up at Wincanton on Boxing Day and we were struggling to be honest, and then we won a couple at the end of the season and now look where we are.

“I said to the lads having lunch before, you’ll get used to these nice days and that’s where he’s taking them. He’s one of those horses who will take them to these lovely big days and he’s winning still at the moment, so quite where we end up I don’t know.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does and play our way, but we will take him to one of the festivals because the guys who own him deserve to have a runner there.

“The horse is probably putting himself in that picture, without getting too carried away. I’m not saying he’s going to go and win at a festival but he deserves to go and have that day out because he’s won four times in the last six or seven months.”

Top Cloud kept on gamely under Liam Harrison to get the better of Scamallach Liath in another thrilling finish to the Ascot Racecourse Supports Schools Photography Competition Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Market leader Scamallach Liath made a brave attempt to make all under top weight over just short of three miles but was pipped at the post by Robbie Llewellyn’s 11-2 scorer.

The six-year-old has now won four out of five since joining Llewellyn from Chris Grant after being snapped up for only £8,000 by his new connections in May.

“It’s magical and we want to be competitive on the big days,” said Wroughton handler Llewellyn after his charge had prevailed by a head.

“I haven’t got a lot of money to spend and I think our most expensive horse is £12,000. This time last year, we had one winner, but we’ve got a better team of horses and it’s paying off.

“We’re in a new yard just below Alan King’s, it’s brilliant and I think that’s our 12th winner now from about 50 runners, so I’m over the moon.

“This lad has a brilliant attitude and is as hard as nails, I don’t think he is a world beater but what he will do is go through the pain barrier for you and just puts his head down and grinds it out – he does it the hard way.

“He thinks he is faster than he actually is, but he has a great attitude and hardly leaves a nut, so you can go to war more times with him.

“You can have the best work horse and best rating, but if they don’t want to go through with it, they don’t win races – and his attitude has won him four races now.”

Pawapuri successfully stepped up to Listed class with a decisive victory in the Betfred Hat-Trick Heaven Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

A dual winner on the Flat for William Haggas, the four-year-old was highly tried by Nicky Henderson on her first two starts over obstacles, running in Grade Two and Grade One company last season.

Having made the most of having her sights lowered on her reappearance in a maiden at Wincanton last month, the daughter of Golden Horn was back up in class in Lancashire and stuck her task well in the testing conditions to repel the challenge of Lunar Discovery by two lengths under James Bowen.

“She jumped well. She missed a couple on the way round when I forced her, but she stayed on well,” said the winning rider.

“It was her first time over two miles three (furlongs) and in the back of my head going down to the last I thought we’ve got another 300 yards left, but she finished well in the end.

“She is a big mare and it wasn’t really the right time for her last season. She has got her black type now, so they can have fun.”

Bowen is looking forward to returning to Merseyside on Boxing Day, having been booked to partner Henderson’s Jango Baie in the Grade One William Hill Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

He added: “Hopefully it will be a big day – I’ve never had a Grade One winner and this will be one of the best chances I’ve ridden in a Grade One.

“Jango Baie is a sharp horse and is a proper two-miler at the moment. He is a nice horse.”

Pawapuri’s stablemate Issuing Authority had earlier belatedly opened his account over obstacles in the Betfred TV Beginners’ Chase.

Just three runners went to post for the extended two-mile contest, and Doyen Star was pulled up after never really threatening to land a telling blow.

Having tracked the pacesetting 11-10 favourite Inedit Star for much of the way, Issuing Authority – placed in each of his four races over hurdles without success – asserted in the home straight and passed the post 15 lengths clear.

“It is hard work out there as it is as deep as you can get. I barely got over the last (fence) to be honest with you,” said Bowen.

“I knew he would have come on for his last run. He jumped really well that day and we stepped him back down to an extended two miles today on this ground. I think that suited him as he is a strong traveller and a good jumper.

“Hopefully he can keep progressing now.”

Following successive wins at Sedgefield, Andrew Hamilton’s El Jefe (15-2) completed his hat-trick in the Betfred Nifty 50 Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Conor Rabbitt.

Hamilton said: “Last year we won the Last Fling (Handicap Chase) with All About Joe, but we lost him in the summer. It is nice to come back to Haydock and get another good winner.

“Last season he never lifted the bridle at all, and I could not find the bottom of it. He has come back this season looking like a new horse. He loves life and that was fantastic.”

Iberico Lord and Impose Toi give leading owner JP McManus two strong chances of victory in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot on Saturday.

Having shown glimpses of promise during his novice campaign, Iberico Lord looked an improved performer when claiming top honours on his reappearance in last month’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and is well fancied to claim another major handicap victory this weekend.

His Nicky Henderson stablemate Impose Toi also made a successful return from a break at Cheltenham’s November meeting, albeit in lesser company, and the owner’s racing manager Frank Berry feels the pair are tough to split.

He said: “Their form ties in pretty closely and they’re both in good form. Nicky is happy with them and we’re hoping for the best.

“You’d be hoping they can both improve, it’s a lovely race for the two of them and a valuable race, so it’s nice to have two nice ones for it.”

The McManus-owned duo form part of a three-pronged assault for Henderson, who is also hopeful of a bold showing from his talented mare Luccia.

“We’re very happy with all three. Iberico Lord is in great order, he jumped five hurdles on Thursday morning and he looked very sharp,” the Seven Barrows handler told Sky Sports Racing.

“Impose Toi won at the same Cheltenham meeting. We were thinking of going to Sandown but that ground was so unattractive that we kept him back and JP was happy to run the two against each other.

“They are the same age, have similar profiles from France so they’ve got to take each other on, it’s a big prize. You probably need all the bullets you can find.

“Luccia is lurking there quite menacingly. She jumped half a dozen with Paul O’Brien on Thursday and he rides her. She’s in really good shape.”

Altobelli made a promising start to his campaign when second at Ascot in November and his trainer Harry Fry is confident there is more to come.

“His last run was his first run in a handicap and I was keen to get some more experience into him before going for a better race,” he said.

“Saturday is competitive, as you’d expect, but he’s in really good form with himself and should be all the better for that run.

“Hopefully he can be there or thereabouts.”

Gary Moore’s Hansard is allotted top-weight of 12 stone following his victory in Gerry Feilden at Newbury last month, although some of that hefty burden is offset by Niall Houlihan’s 3lb claim.

“He’s got his fair share of weight and it will have to be a big performance (to win),” said Moore.

“The good thing is Niall hasn’t been able to ride a winner recently, so he’s still able to take 3lb off. He’s a horse we’ve always thought highly of.”

Onlyamatteroftime is prominent in the market, despite having run out as favourite for the Greatwood Hurdle on his first start for Willie Mullins.

Kerry Lee’s Welsh Champion Hurdle winner and Greatwood fifth Nemean Lion, Dan Skelton’s Faivoir and the hat-trick-seeking Moveit Like Minnie from the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard also feature.

The training prowess of Nicky Henderson has been hailed after Doddiethegreat raised more valuable funds for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation when finishing second at Cheltenham last week.

Owned by Kenny Alexander, the seven-year-old is named after former Scotland rugby union great Doddie Weir, who died of motor neurone disease in November last year.

Alexander is donating all prize-money earned throughout Doddiethegreat’s career to the foundation set up by his great friend and fellow Scot to raise funds to aid research into MND.

This was a decision that paid dividends at the beginning of the gelding’s career when he won his first three outings with the minimum of fuss and he then channelled his namesake’s fighting spirit when returning from over two years on the sidelines with a thrilling comeback victory at Ascot recently.

Although tasting defeat for the first time at Cheltenham, he travelled menacingly over the Prestbury Park undulations and was denied by just over a length as he raised a further £6,075 for the charity.

“We’re absolutely delighted and over the moon with him and Nicky Henderson’s training performance with him has just been phenomenal,” said Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony.

“I don’t think there is a better trainer anywhere to get a horse back from injury and nurse a horse back to the racecourse and then also get them to perform at the top level again, it’s absolutely incredible.

“The whole story and Kenny’s generosity to the Doddie foundation is brilliant and the horse is earning lots of money for the foundation which is huge and hopefully we are raising a bit of awareness for the cause as well.

“When you set out to do something like this with a horse and he turns out to be Doddie and he is winning and showing the ability that he has, then it is great and gives you a great sense of satisfaction.”

Doddiethegreat’s owner has made no secret of his desire to take a shot at the Scottish Champion Hurdle in the spring, but his Cheltenham performance has now opened up more options, with both a return for the Festival in March and a step up in trip just a couple of the possibilities for connections to ponder.

“I think both Nicky and Nico (de Boinville, jockey) are adamant that he is crying out for further and will improve for further,” continued Molony.

“Kenny would absolutely love him to go to Ayr in April for the Scottish Champion Hurdle. But we would just be a little bit worried that you might get fast ground and with his previous injury history and it being over two miles, would that be the right place for him? It’ll certainly be under consideration.”

When asked if a run at the Cheltenham Festival would be considered, Molony added: “Absolutely, all options will be open and no doubt Nicky and his team will pick the right course of action with him.

“It’s still one day at a time because of his horrific injury and we’ll always be on tenterhooks with him, but we will see how we go.”

Nicky Henderson is looking forward to putting a frustrating period behind him by belatedly taking the wraps off Constitution Hill and Shishkin at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The superstar duo have not been seen in competitive action so far this season and, not for the first time, the Seven Barrows handler has drawn criticism from some quarters for his cautious approach.

There have, though, been extenuating circumstances on both counts, with Constitution Hill’s intended defence of the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle scuppered by the weather, and Shishkin even getting to the start of Ascot’s 1965 Chase, only to dig his heels in and refuse to jump off with the other runners.

Henderson subsequently entered and declared his top-class pair for a rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown – and while the decision to withdraw both on account of testing conditions left many disappointed, the trainer insists with Constitution Hill in particular, it was a straightforward call.

“You couldn’t run at Sandown and Kempton. It was physically not possible,” Henderson said at a media morning at his yard on Tuesday.

“You knew straight away you were going to have to sacrifice one race for the other and we decided we would stick to the original plan.

“I wasn’t going to put him in at Sandown until the very last minute. I had already said to Michael (Buckley, owner) ‘I don’t think this will work’, but he said ‘let’s see’.

“You could not have possibly run in both races and that is what some people fail to understand. That is the only thing I find frustrating.

“Of course, it is frustrating when you drag him all the way to Newcastle and back again. That was bad luck. That was the original plan and that is where he would have been, and we would have been on the same leg as last year – unfortunately, we are not.”

While Constitution Hill’s preparation for a bid to claim back-to-back Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle wins has not gone entirely to plan, Henderson is confident the lack of a recent run will not be a hindrance.

He is, though, keen to see how the six-year-old performs before considering plans beyond Christmas.

Henderson added: “He was ready for Newcastle, and he is ready for Kempton.

“We have got to get out there and he has got to go through the motions. He has got to be as good as he ever was at Kempton, then we can look forward.

“He could go to Kempton, then Cheltenham for the International Hurdle, which they have stuck in on Trials Day, then Cheltenham (for the Champion Hurdle) and then Aintree.

“He won’t go to Ireland then (for the Dublin Racing Festival), definitely not, but I won’t look forward until Kempton is over.”

While much is made of Constitution Hill’s apparently bombproof temperament, the same cannot be said at this stage of his stablemate Shishkin following his much publicised refusal in Berkshire last month.

Henderson, however, insists that while the nine-year-old has his quirks, his behaviour tends to improve as the season progresses.

He said: “Constitution Hill is the A, B, C of training horses and you point him in the right direction. He is very straightforward, as he has got a very good temperament.

“Shishkin is very straightforward, but the early part of the season with him is probably the most difficult. That was a bit to do with what happened at Ascot.

“When he is fresh, he is a bit of a plonker! I sent him to Zara Tindall to go and do some work with her. It was good condition and dressage work to get some manners on him and get the basics done. I think he really enjoyed it.

“He doesn’t enjoy that bit here early on and I don’t know why. He can be stroppy. Once he has had a run, he is completely the opposite. He is putty in our hands.”

As a six-time Grade One and dual Cheltenham Festival winner, Shishkin’s raw ability is not in question, but Henderson feels he faces an almighty task to win the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on what will ultimately be his first start since impressing at Aintree in the spring.

“I’ve been saying all along I don’t see how you can win a King George without a race and the answer is you can’t. On the other hand, we have got nowhere else to go, as there isn’t another race until the Cotswold Chase,” Henderson went on.

“If I ran him at Sandown in the Fighting Fifth, I would have bottomed him and he wouldn’t go to the King George, so therefore I had to take him home and run him straight in.

“He has been going, for him, really well, and his schooling the other morning was fantastic. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he can win a King George, but I do think he can run very well.

“The trouble with Kempton is that some people think it is an easy three miles because it is flat and fast and there are no hills, but there isn’t a place where they can take a blow or have a breather. You jump, jump, jump, then go flat out around a bend, then go jump, jump, jump. It is all go, go, go.

“We have got to have a go, as we have no other option. We have got to Christmas and he hasn’t had a run, but that is not his fault and I don’t think it is mine either, as we have been trying.”

On his plans to try to avoid a repeat of his Ascot antics, the trainer added: “George (Daly) will go down to the start with him, as he knows him really well.

“We can’t do anything. Charlie Brooks mentioned a hunting horn, but Barney (Clifford, clerk of the course) won’t let me get up a tree and blow it!”

Marie’s Rock is being readied for a defence of her Relkeel Hurdle crown on New Year’s Day after connections decided against a tilt at Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Nicky Henderson’s dual Grade One winner proved much too strong for Dashel Drasher in the Relkeel at Cheltenham last season, prompting the Middleham Park Racing team to seriously consider stepping up to three miles in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.

Ultimately, though, she was kept against her own sex in a bid to secure back-to-back victories in the Mares’ Hurdle, but failed to fire as retiring superstar Honeysuckle stole the show.

Having subsequently run with credit over the extended distance at Aintree in the spring, optimism was high when she tackled three miles again in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, but Marie’s Rock could finish only fourth behind her old rival Dashel Drasher, prompting a change of direction.

“She was a bit too free and fresh at Newbury to get an accurate reading on whether she stayed the three miles and we’ve decided to go back to what we know for her next start,” said Middleham Park’s National Hunt racing manager Tom Palin.

“I was probably a bit too bullish for my own good before Newbury, but horses to have a tendency to make you look silly at times! She was certainly the liveliest I’ve seen her in recent memory in the parade ring beforehand and Nico (de Boinville) felt the damage was done before the tapes even went up.

“We’ll go back to two and a half on soft ground at Cheltenham, which we know she loves, burn some more freshness off her and get her really fit before going back up to three miles, either in the Cleeve Hurdle back at Cheltenham on Trials day or there’s a Grade Two mares’ race at Ascot on January 20.”

Palin is fully aware the Relkeel Hurdle will be no penalty kick for Marie’s Rock, with Henry de Bromhead’s resurgent Irish star Bob Olinger among her potential rivals.

He added: “It’s not a bad race the Relkeel, by the way – it’s not a case of we’re dodging the Long Walk and ‘only’ going for the Relkeel. It was a very competitive race last year and it looks like it’s going to be at least as strong this time around.

“Unless it’s very obvious in the Relkeel that she doesn’t want any further, we’re keen to give her another go over three miles afterwards as that will tell us whether we aim for the Mares’ Hurdle again at the Festival or have another look at the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“She is a mare at the end of the day, so let’s see if we can get some more wins into her, starting off in a race where we know everything should be right for her.”

Shanagh Bob produced a determined performance to maintain his unbeaten record in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Bought for £200,000 after winning an Irish point-to-point 12 moths ago, the five-year-old began to repay that hefty price tag when making a successful debut under rules at Plumpton recently.

Nicky Henderson’s charge was a 15-8 favourite stepping up in trip and class for this three-mile Grade Two – and while Nico de Boinville had to get to work from before the home turn, Shanagh Bob did respond generously to his urgings to keep him in contention.

The experienced Destroytheevidence, winner of three of his five previous outings over hurdles, stuck to his guns to make a race of it in the straight, but he was ultimately unable to resist Shanagh Bob’s finishing kick, with a length and a quarter separating them at the line.

Moon D’Orange also ran with credit in third, as did the fourth placed Kerryhill.

Henderson said of the winner: “He has come from one ordinary novice hurdle at Plumpton into a Grade Two. I was looking for a three-mile race for him and stumbled across this.

“You always felt as if he was learning. He looked like he kept finding ways to get beaten. He is a really lovely, honest, hardy person that has got his whole life in front of him.

“He just needs to learn a bit. He doesn’t know what he is doing yet, and I don’t think he knew what he was doing there, to be honest with you.

“Nico said he doesn’t think he is there yet, but he tries very hard. It is a long way from Plumpton to here in one step. I’m pleasantly surprised.”

On whether the Albert Bartlett at the Festival in March is a likely target, the Seven Barrows handler added: “This is the road to it, but let’s see how things go before we jump into that water, as there is a long way to go before that.

“I thought this was a crazy step, but it has worked and he has got to stay in this company from here on in. If he can make the Albert Bartlett, that would be lovely. I know Joe (Donnelly, owner) would like to, and so would I.”

Not So Sleepy stayed on best of all to win the rescheduled Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

Saved from Newcastle’s abandoned card last weekend, the race lost plenty of its lustre when Nicky Henderson withdrew the current champion hurdler Constitution Hill and stablemate Shishkin.

That meant just four went to post, with Goshen and You Wear It Well setting a strong enough gallop in the conditions.

By the second last those two had done their running while Not So Sleepy, who turns 12 in a few weeks, was still on the bridle under Sean Bowen.

Love Envoi, who had not really been travelling throughout, soon appeared on the scene but approaching the last Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated in the race with Epatante in 2021, quickened eight lengths clear.

It was a noteworthy success for Bowen, who also holds a sizeable lead in the race to become champion jockey.

Nicky Henderson has withdrawn Constitution Hill and Shishkin from the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown.

While the meeting passed a 7.30am inspection, rain was still falling throughout the morning at the Esher track on already heavy ground on the hurdles track and conditions are being monitored.

Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill was supposed to make his seasonal reappearance at Newcastle last weekend but the meeting was abandoned with the Fighting Fifth moved to Sandown.

Shishkin was an intended runner at Newcastle also, in the Rehearsal Chase, but in an attempt to get a prep run into him before the King George, Henderson had declared him alongside his stablemate.

However, neither will run at Sandown, nor will promising novice hurdler Willmount in an earlier race but Jonbon is still an intended starter in the Tingle Creek.

Henderson said on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Due to the extremely testing going, we have decided that Constitution Hill will not run in today’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Sandown because it would simply not be fair to race him under such extreme conditions on his first run of the season.

“It is too close to Boxing Day, and he can’t do both, so, all being well, he’ll go straight to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle.

“Shishkin has also been withdrawn, along with Willmount from his intended engagement in the Listed Novices’ Hurdle.”

As for Jonbon he added: “He has had a run so is fit and well, and the ground is much more suitable on the chase course. It is very unfortunate, and we are all sorry they won’t be turning up, but we have to put the horses first — it’s as simple as that.”

Constitution Hill, Shishkin and Jonbon headline a star-studded card at Sandown on Saturday.

The rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle will see Nicky Henderson saddle both Constitution Hill (Nico de Boinville) and Shishkin (James Bowen).

Taking on the Seven Barrows duo are Goshen, Not So Sleepy and top-notch mares Love Envoi and You Wear It Well.

On an important afternoon for Henderson, Jonbon is odds-on for the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase in which he will face four rivals – Boothill, Edwardstone, Haddex Des Obeaux and Nube Negra.

Willmount is another leading contender for the team as the impressive Newbury winner moves up to Listed level in the Betfair Claremont Novices’ Hurdle.

Also on the Esher menu is the Betfair-sponsored Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, where the Joe Tizzard-trained JPR One bids to atone for an unfortunate mishap at Cheltenham last month.

Freshness has been cited as the reason for the below-par display from Marie’s Rock at Newbury, with owners Middleham Park Racing no closer to knowing if their star mare truly stays three miles.

The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was a Cheltenham Festival heroine for her syndicate members in 2022 before following up at the Punchestown Festival the following month.

She added to her haul of victories when successfully reappearing in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day but failed to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown when seventh behind Honeysuckle.

Having decided against a move up to three miles at the Festival, connections finally made the step up in distance at Aintree a month later, where she finished second to a thriving Sire Du Berlais.

Given another chance to prove herself over a staying trip, Marie’s Rock was sent off the 6-5 favourite to get her new campaign off to a winning start in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle.

However, over-exuberance both pre-race and in the early exchanges put paid to her chances and left connections willing to put a line through her disappointing fourth-placed finish under Nico de Boinville.

“I suspected we knew our fate when she was leaving the parade ring really, and she was as wound up as I’ve seen her in recent memory,” explained Tom Palin, racing manager for Middleham Park’s National Hunt string.

“She is Marie’s Rock, she does get sweaty and she does get buzzy, but she was very, very on it and Nico said she was on it at the start, just always on her nerves.

“She came there looking like she was going to be deadly and nothing was found and that was because she spent her energy at the start really, the damage was done before the tapes went up.

“There’s a fine line with horses like her and she’s so brilliant and so quick, but you just need to harness it and I think she was just too fresh and too free to do herself any form of justice.”

The defeat has left the Middleham Park team scratching their heads regarding Marie’s Rock’s next move, still lacking clarity over their eight-time winner’s staying potential.

Although eased in the Long Walk Hurdle market, connections are refusing to completely give up on three-mile ambitions, despite a crack at back-to-back Relkeel Hurdle victories followed by the Mares’ Hurdle back down in trip creeping onto the radar.

“We’ll regroup and go again and see whether we go again over three miles next time or drop back to two-and-a-half for the Relkeel,” added Palin.

“She’s the defending champion in that and is very good over two-and-a-half-miles at Cheltenham. That could be just the ticket, or we could stick to three miles in the Long Walk.

“We’ll have a bit of a discussion as a syndicate and with the trainer and see just where she is in the next 10 days or so.

“She was too free to accurately judge if she is going to be a three miler or not, but what I would say is that at this stage, the Mares'(Hurdle) is a bit more open to consideration than it was going into Friday.

“My comments (previously) have been it’s very much just the three-mile route, but when the facts change, your opinions are allowed to change as well and I’m not as all-in – nor is Nicky or the team – on the three-mile division being her sole campaign this year. We’ll know more as the season goes on.”

If abandoning the Long Walk in favour of the Relkeel, one possible route available to the Marie’s Rock team is a temporary drop in distance that allows the mare the chance to defend her crown, before a third attempt at three miles over the Stayers’ Hurdle track and trip in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day.

“You could go Relkeel and then onto the Cleeve at the end of the month and go back up to three miles that way,” continued Palin.

“Then she will be hard fit because she’s had two runs, burnt off any freshness and there would be no excuses.

“You would have a pretty good sighter and handle on whether she is right to line up in a Grade One staying race from there on in.”

Jeriko Du Reponet justified his lofty reputation with a facile success on his rules debut at Newbury.

An impressive winner on his sole start in the Irish point-to-point field in the spring, the French-bred four-year-old was subsequently snapped up by JP McManus and sent to Nicky Henderson.

The Seven Barrows dogs had been barking his name even prior to a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury, while he was already prominent in ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March even before he jumped off for his competitive introduction in Berkshire.

Jeriko Du Reponet was the 4-11 favourite for the Coral Get Closer To The Action “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle, a race Henderson has won six times in the last 10 years, with two McManus-owned stars in dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air and the top-class Jonbon among those on the roll of honour.

Nico de Boinville had to chivvy the trainer’s latest candidate into the bridle on a couple of occasions in the home straight, but he was motionless after jumping the final flight upsides in front and soon eased three and a quarter lengths clear of the runner-up King William Rufus.

“It was quite straightforward, the main thing was to give him the experience as well. I thought he was very genuine, it rode like an okay race and he’s gone through it well,” De Boinville told Racing TV.

“There was a bit of a tight gap, which it was good that he came through, and once he’s got through that he’s come back on the bridle.

“He’ll obviously come on for the run, he had a nice piece of work here about 10 days ago and he’s a very good-looking horse.”

Paddy Power make Jeriko Du Reponet an 8-1 shot for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Unibet were even more impressed and offer just 4-1 for the traditional Festival curtain-raiser.

A debate in parliament on the subject of controversial affordability checks is “crucial”, according to Nevin Truesdale, chief executive of the Jockey Club.

Industry leaders have warned that new regulations could cost the sport up to £250million over the next five years, threatening racecourses with closure and putting some of the 80,000-plus jobs associated with racing at risk.

On Tuesday, a petition against the implementation of what are seen as intrusive checks passed 100,000 signatures – the point at which parliament is obliged to consider whether to hold a debate into the proposals.

The petition is industry-wide, but is registered in the name of Truesdale, who said: “The racing industry and its many supporters have demonstrated the level of concern about the proposed affordability checks by helping this petition reach 100,000 signatures.

“The government has been left in no doubt about the strength of opposition to these intrusive and potentially discriminatory checks with a knock-on effect to racing’s financial ecosystem and the 88,000 jobs which depend upon it. It is therefore crucial that we now secure a debate in parliament so that the vitally important issue of problem gambling and how best to address it in the digital age can be discussed properly.

“We want to see targeted measures implemented so that those at risk of gambling harm get the support they need and that measures are put in place which actually address the core issue. As such I would urge parliament to take steps to ensure such a debate takes place as swiftly as possible.

“British racing has consistently demonstrated that it is stronger and more effective when it works together and the way we have collaborated on this issue, which threatens the future of the industry in so many ways, is another fantastic example of that.”

Leading National Hunt trainer Nicky Henderson helped drive the push to reach 100,000 signatures.

In an open letter to Racing TV customers, he wrote: “In recent weeks, I have realised that this very much is my problem. If you are reading this, you are a racing fan, which means it’s your problem as well.

“I have spoken to one or two quite serious punters who are already being impacted by affordability checks and are furious that the gambling white paper is set to make it even harder for them.

“They are adamant they are not going to hand over their personal financial documents. I don’t blame them. Why should they or any punter, big or small, be told whether or not they can afford to have a bet?

“It is completely wrong in principle – and even if you don’t bet, it doesn’t mean this has nothing to do with you. Affordability checks are going to smash a hole in racing’s finances and do untold damage to British racing and rural communities.

“That’s why I’ve been urging people in Lambourn to sign the sport’s petition against affordability checks. This is a massive issue and we must do all we can to make a difference.”

Earlier this month, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport provided a detailed response to the setting up of the affordability checks petition.

It stated: “The government recognises the enormous value of horseracing as both a spectator sport and through its economic contribution.

“The white paper’s estimate was that financial risk checks will reduce online horserace betting yield by 6% to 11%, which would in turn reduce racing’s income by £8.4 to £14.9 million per year (0.5% to 1% of its total income) through a reduction in levy, media rights and sponsorship returns.

“We are working with racing and refining that estimate. We have also commenced a review of the Horserace Betting Levy to ensure a suitable return to the sport for the future.

“The government and Gambling Commission are working with the industry and others to ensure the checks can be implemented in an effective but proportionate way.

“We are also exploring the role of pilots or phased implementation to help ensure this. The Gambling Commission will set out details on its plans in due course.”

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Shishkin will join esteemed stablemate Constitution Hill on the trip to Newcastle to contest Saturday’s BetMGM Rehearsal Chase.

With the multiple Grade One winner having refused to start in last weekend’s 1965 Chase at Ascot, the Seven Barrows handler admitted to being in a quandary as to what to do with his star chaser as he looks to get his season back on track ahead of a planned tilt at the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

With alternative options limited, Henderson revealed on Sunday that Shishkin could make a swift reappearance in the north east, with Constitution Hill already making the long journey from Lambourn to Gosforth Park as he looks to secure back-to-back victories in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

And while a lofty rating of 173 means Shishkin will have to carry 12 stone and concede upwards of 21lb to each of his rivals in Saturday’s finale, he has been given the go ahead to take his chance.

In a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, Henderson said: “Just to keep everybody informed, Shishkin will run in the Rehearsal Chase on Saturday.

“Everything is fine with him, and he’ll travel up to Newcastle on Friday with Constitution Hill.”

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