Christmas Hurdle: What they say

Nicky Henderson, the paramount star of National Hunt racing, was nothing short of sensational at last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and was equally impressive in his return to the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month.

The five-year-old left behind his Champion Hurdle and two-time Christmas Hurdle winner Epatante at Gosforth Park, but after freezing temperatures spoiled her scheduled appearance at the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, she’s taking it on again.

Nico de Boinville will once again take the wheel on Constitution Hill and although conditions softened on Friday after 18mm of rain he expects his horse to take it easy.

“We lost the rising Knappers Hill and I Like To Move It in the night stage but we all know how good Epatante is who has won this race twice and how effective Sceau Royal is here too. So complacency and overconfidence are not options. It should never be,” he said while reviewing the race on his Unibet blog.

“But everyone saw how good Constitution Hill was in the Supreme and he was great again on his return in the Fighting Fifth, a race where he was 10 out of 10 in every division. It is a privilege to ride him. Horses as good as him make our job look very easy and I really have nothing more to add.

“Extreme ground isn’t ideal for most horses and heavy wouldn’t be ideal but soft here should be fine for him and let’s just hope it continues.”

Third in the bet is Alan King’s stable, steadfast Sceau Royal. The 10-year-old has won 17 races over hurdles and fences combined but his work is clearly cut out in this endeavor.

Metier of Harry Fry, who last won the November handicap on the flat, and Chris Gordon-trained Highway One O Two have even more to find in the official standings – but the latter is a course and distance winner and has come through in that , which looked to have prevailed over a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot last month.

Gordon said: “I put him in there and if he puts on 35 pounds I’ll have it in my pocket!

“At the end of the day we had him saved for the £150,000 handicap at Ascot last weekend and unfortunately that was cancelled.

“There isn’t much more for him, and there’s fantastic prize money at the Christmas Hurdle. My boy will jump off and do his gallop and what will be, will be.

“I don’t really like doing things like that but he’s old enough and wise enough and there just isn’t a suitable handicap for him at the moment with the race being canceled at Ascot.

“We’re going to Kempton, the owner can have a nice day and it would just be nice if we could take some prize money home with us.”

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