We go behind the scenes at Constitution Hill’s infamous racecourse gallop at Kempton Park

ON Tuesday morning, at 10am BCH (Before Constitution Hill), the hottest topic at Kempton Park was the antiques market taking place in the grandstand.

I’ve only ever seen the car park that busy on Boxing Day, and Bryony Frost reckoned there were several pieces of old furniture fetching eye-watering sums.

PAConstitution Hill’s participation at Cheltenham was thrown into doubt this week[/caption]

“I spoke to your man on the door and he said if you get here at about 6.30 in the morning there is stuff being bought for seven figures.”

I’m in the wrong line of work. How do you become an antiques dealer?

Bryony was there alongside Harry Cobden and Lorcan Williams to ride a few of Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham Festival hopefuls in a racecourse gallop, with Nicky Henderson’s team scheduled to have a spin after them.

Champion jockey elect Cobden was in fine form while he waited for Bravemansgame to be saddled up, revealing he would be hot-footing it to Salisbury cattle market afterwards to buy a few more cows for his herd.

Then a half-asleep Freddie Gingell rocked up 10 minutes behind the others in his VW Golf, which he had to have repaired recently after the gearbox blew up.

“She is back up and running now,” he says.

Freddie was fitted out in some khaki cargo pants and an old t-shirt, and Cobden asked whether he had just come from a painting and decorating job.

Team Nicholls get the leg up and head out on the track for a solid, and completely uneventful, piece of work.

Only three of us journos had turned up and we were expecting much of the same when Constitution Hill went out for his last serious piece of work before the Champion Hurdle.

The mood beforehand was jovial.

There was some warmth in the early spring sunshine and owner Michael Buckley and legendary jockey Barry Geraghty, who bought Con Hill as a foal, had turned up and were having their pictures taken with jump racing’s star horse.

But as he came up the straight on the all-weather at Kempton a second time, some 20 lengths adrift of stablemates Sir Gino and Quick Draw, the atmosphere was very different.

The seven-year-old blew like a steam train as he came past us and was eased right down after crossing the line under Nico de Boinville.

When the jockey immediately hopped off the horse’s back my stomach dropped – we just had no idea what was wrong at this point.

There was confusion and shock among Hendo’s entourage, too, and the concerned look on Geraghty’s face will stick in my memory for a long time.

The horse was immediately taken away into the racecourse stables and checked over by the on-site vet – but poor Hendo and Nico had to put a brave face on and put another group of horses through their paces with Con Hill’s situation still unclear.

Henderson refused to speak with us until he’d had the horse scoped – which was understandable – while his wife, Sophie, looked dejected as she eased the stress with a cigarette.

The six-time champion trainer has taken lots of stick this year, especially concerning this horse, but you could see the very real strain and anxiety they were all feeling while we waited for the results of the scope.

Half an hour later, Hendo emerged from the stables and delivered the news that the tracheal wash had produced ‘significant mucus’, saying the problem Con Hill had back in January ‘had returned to haunt us’.

Haunt could not have been a more appropriate word, because Hendo’s team looked like they had seen a ghost straight after the gallop-gone-wrong.

Now, it’s a waiting game.

Will the antibiotics work quickly enough and will Constitution Hill win the race against time to make it to Cheltenham?

It’s the million dollar question. And if I had the answer, you can guarantee I wouldn’t be spending the money on antique bloody furniture.


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