Weather worries adding to pressure of Constitution Hill return

Pre-eminent star of hunt racing will be back at Newcastle on Saturday

A “quite dire” weather forecast is owner Michael Buckley’s biggest concern ahead of Constitution Hill’s return in the BetMGM Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.

The pre-eminent star of National Hunt racing was a brilliant winner of the Gosforth Park showpiece last season, before going on to land the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Aintree Hurdle to extend his faultless record to seven.

With Constitution Hill’s top-class stablemate Shishkin also set to make the trip to the northeast for the Rehearsal Chase, a fantastic afternoon’s sport is in store. But the prospect of plummeting temperatures is a big worry for all those involved.

“I’m told the forecast is actually quite dire – Nicky told me this morning he’d had a phone call and they were saying temperatures might get down to minus 8C or 10, with only minus 1C in the day. If that happens I think any racing on Saturday might be in a bit of trouble,” Buckley told Sky Sports Racing.

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“Newcastle last year was such a thrilling day and the crowd were so nice there. I’d never been to Newcastle before and I was looking forward to it, so I hope it all happens [again].”

Should Newcastle’s fixture fall to the cold snap, Constitution Hill looks set to head straight to the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day due to a lack of alternatives in the meantime.

Buckley added: “I think it’s going to be pretty tough for Nicky, because both horses [Constitution Hill and Shishkin] are going there and if everything goes well with them the idea was that they would both go to Kempton.

“There’s two things – there’s nothing suitable between now and then and there isn’t any time. It’s only three weeks from Saturday until Boxing Day.”

Constitution Hill will be extremely shorts odds to dispatch of a maximum of four rivals if the Fighting Fifth does go ahead, which Buckley admits does heighten the pre-race nerves.

He said: “Having a 6-1 on favourite is a different sort of pressure, but I’m looking forward to it.

“I had a coffee with William Haggas last week and he said ‘I feel for you, because you have these very good horses and they come along so infrequently for any of us, but there’s a different pressure’.

“He said going for the Queen Anne at 1-6 [with Baaeed] was one of the most pressurised things he’s ever felt, which is silly really, but all you do is think about what can go wrong rather than what can go right.

“It is a privilege to be given a horse like this. You can buy lots of horses, but it’s a gift if you get something that is so exceptional and it’s a joy and a thrill and the worrying bits are just part of life – I’d rather have those worries than not have the horse, anyway.”

Not only does Constitution Hill possess brilliant ability, but much is also made about his apparently bombproof temperament.

“He’s very chilled until the business moments arrive. He’s pretty exuberant when he sees a hurdle, certainly if there’s another horse around, but he is just what he is – he keeps his energy at a low level until he has to use it,” Buckley continued.

“It’s a bit terrifying at times, the way he takes off, but I think he just likes to show off. He likes to take off outside the wings and I just hope he doesn’t lose his ability to measure the hurdles properly!

“People seem to love him, so I hope he does his stuff and runs somewhere like he did last season.”