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Nicky Henderson reveals that Constitution Hill could make his return at Punchestown

Nicky Henderson has raised the faint possibility of Constitution Hill returning to action at the Punchestown Festival.

Last season’s brilliant Champion Hurdle winner had been a short price to defend his crown at Cheltenham last week, but a fortnight before the Festival a poor workout at Kempton led to the discovery of mucus in his scope.

There was a brief glimmer of hope he would come right in time for Cheltenham, but he was ultimately the first in a host of Henderson big guns to be ruled out of the showpiece meeting.

Henderson ran six horses on the first day of Cheltenham, five of which were pulled up. The only bright spot was Luccia finishing third in the Champion Hurdle, just three and a half lengths behind State Man, arguably making Constitution Hill’s absence even harder to bear.

One by one Henderson’s main chances were withdrawn, with Shishkin not even declared for Friday’s Gold Cup. Jonbon was taken out of the Champion Chase while Sir Gino also missed the Triumph Hurdle.

Henderson was keen to point out that a very trying week was made a fraction more bearable due to the understanding shown by the racing industry as a whole.

“My owners were brilliant, very understanding, as were the media and everyone else in racing and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” he said.

While in hindsight Constitution Hill’s absence might have been a blessing given how Henderson’s week went, there may be green shoots of recovery. He also saddled a winner at Kempton on Saturday through Persian Time.

“He had his blood done yesterday, as he has done every Monday since what happened at Kempton,” said Henderson.

“It has kept on improving to the point where it is as near normal as it could possibly get without being 100 per cent. It is 99 per cent, which is a long way from where it started.

“He is back in routine exercise and has joined in at the back of the team this week.

“What he had and what the others had are two completely different things. He was pretty unwell, whereas all the others are very well but have a problem. I think it’s been well documented we have a problem.

“His blood tests told us he was unwell and given he’s so laid-back at home it was a good job we took him to Kempton.

“Now he’s better and his bloods are almost back to normality he can resume exercise, but he hasn’t galloped yet.

“We’ll tick along, you can take it he won’t be going to Aintree but if he continues and his work progresses with it, there is the possibility he could go to Punchestown which both Michael (Buckley, owner) and I would love to do if possible.

“If you were to ask me his primary objective I would most likely say it’s the Fighting Fifth next autumn, but if we can get to Punchestown then we will.”

He added: “Where we are mystified is that we thought they were well, their work was great but 10 days before Cheltenham they weren’t running well and everyone picked up on that, but we put it down to the ground and not being the ‘A team’.

“All appeared to be fine and all the tests were fine, but then we discovered the horses we were running were running dreadful.

“Every trainer in the country dreads this sort of thing, and for it to happen last week couldn’t have been worse, the timing was horrendous.

“Everybody has been through the mill, but as a team and family we at Seven Barrows would just like to thank everyone for how understanding everyone has been and for that we will be forever grateful. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, just a bit of understanding.

“We’ve been having massive meetings about how we get through this and we’ll take it easy this week and regroup next week and see where we are.

“We’ll see if we can get the main protagonists to Aintree. Sir Gino, Shishkin and Jonbon, they’ve all missed their dance. The next dance is Aintree and the one after that is Punchestown but they’ll only run in one, they would have done anyway.

“I love Punchestown and I love Aintree, they don’t quite have the pressure of Cheltenham but they are still Grade Ones so let’s try to get there.”

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