Fast ground rules Constitution Hill, L'Homme Presse and Edwardstone out of Ascot returns
- Constitution Hill, L'Homme Presse and Edwardstone were all non-runners at Ascot today
- Drying ground resulted in a large number of non-runners
- Nicky Henderson said Constitution Hill will now run in either the Fighting Fifth or the International Hurdle
Tom Buckley riding Milan Bridge return after a 'walkover' in The Ebony Horse Club Novices' Limited Handicap Chase at Ascot. (Getty)
What was billed as the biggest day of the jumps season so far turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, thanks to the ground at Ascot racecourse.
Clerk of the course at Ascot, Chris Stickels called the going good-to-soft this morning, describing the ground as "perfect". Yet, as the sun shone down on the track, runner after runner was withdrawn by concerning connections.
Three Cheltenham Festival heroes were due to return at Ascot on Saturday. Constitution Hill was long odds-on to win the Ascot Hurdle, with L'Homme Presse and Edwardstone both topping their respective markets.
Edwardstone was the first to be taken out by Alan King this morning. Just before ITV Racing went on air, Nicky Henderson and Venetia Williams also decided to withdraw their Cheltenham Festival winners.
"I'm sorry to say we can't (run)" Nicky Henderson told the press. "It's disappointing for everyone, but I promise you it's disappointing for us, Michael, Nico and the whole team. It didn't take long to make up our minds.
"All the horses we ran here yesterday were all right this morning, but we've been chatting all morning and a certain amount of damage was done yesterday – and the ground today will only dry out in the next two hours."
"It's quick. It's really sad and we wanted to run. This throws out the whole programme. It's a nightmare. We tried to warn people last night this was on the cards – I wouldn't run much on it."
Both Henderson and Alan King have come under fire in recent seasons for not running their horse on what they deem to be unsuitable ground. Henderson was apologetic when he revealed that Constitution Hill had been taken out, but reitterated that the welfare of the horse is paramount.
"I spoke to Kingy this morning and Kingy and I spoke to Chris Stickels last night. It's quite extraordinary but there was firm in the description on Monday and Tuesday morning and then we got the rain to get some soft places, but it has dried.
"It's difficult for tracks and Newbury had a heap of rain in the week and (clerk) Keith Ottesen said he couldn't believe where it had gone – it had just vanished. The rain is just running through these courses at the moment and I suppose it's because the water table is so low."
"He could be anything. You don't take a risk with any horse. We're as responsible for a 100-rated horse as we are this fella. He has his life in front of him and he's a big horse, twice the size he was last year. We know he goes on heavy ground – he loves it – so it's unlikely he'd really want to go on it this quick, and he does hit it hard too."
"He's done everything right and he's here – he'll be asleep if I know him. He's going to miss his day out, which is sad and I'm sorry for everyone and apologise, but one thing comes first and that's him.
When asked were we could see Constitution Hill next, Henderson identified two possible targets at both Newcastle and Cheltenham.
"There are only two options, Newcastle or wait for the International. Epatante will go for the Fighting Fifth, but that doesn't mean he can't. I quite like the idea of the International, but the timing doesn't get you anywhere [as it is close to the Christmas Hurdle], so you'd go to Haydock for the Champion Hurdle Trial after it."
Nico De Boinville had been looking forward to riding Constitution Hill again, having last partnered Henderson's star during that stunning victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
De Boinville told the press at Ascot, “However much rain they’ve had, it’s just gone in and evaporated. It’s gone. The trouble with this time of year and the changing climate is that good ground in autumn is very different to good ground in spring.
"We’re coming off the back of one of the biggest droughts in our history and, whatever’s happening on top, underneath it’s still rock solid."
“Horses like Constitution Hill don’t come around very often, they’re horses of a lifetime, and you have to be mindful of that. He won the Tolworth on soft-heavy ground and as a team it’s better to be safe than sorry."
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