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Constitution Hill ready to go at Newcastle with Nicky Henderson hopeful over Shishkin

Trainer Nicky Henderson is set for a big day at Newcastle on Saturday as he heads north with Constitution Hill and Shishkin; watch the action from Newcastle on Saturday live on Sky Sports Racing with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at 1.55pm and Rehearsal Chase at 3.05pm

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Trainer Nicky Henderson says it has been plain sailing with Constitution Hill's preparation for Saturday's Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, live on Sky Sports Racing

Nicky Henderson is hoping for a double boost at Newcastle on Saturday as he prepares to head north with his star duo Constitution Hill and Shishkin.

Constitution Hill is set to face four rivals - Love Envoi, Not So Sleepy, You Wear It Well and Benson - in the BetMGM Fighting Fifth Hurdle, while Shishkin is among eight declared for the BetMGM Rehearsal Chase after being rerouted following his antics at Ascot last weekend - watch both races live on Sky Sports Racing.

Constitution Hill 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.

Constitution Hill is back!
Constitution Hill is back!

Watch the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle live on Sky Sports Racing on Saturday, December 2

Henderson revealed to Sky Sports Racing, that the six-year-old, who is set to start a long odds-on favourite for the race, had taken his time getting into shape, but is now ready to go.

The Seven Barrows trainer said: "He did very, very well over the summer. He nearly got too big to be honest. The first bit was quite difficult. I was sort of worried after a bit that his shape wasn't taking place quite as quickly as I anticipated.

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Owner Michael Buckley says 'gorgeous' Constitution Hill is 'very chilled until the business moments arrive' ahead of his seasonal return in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle

"But since he's had a gallop at Newbury, we've just had to keep the workload up and suddenly he's streamed down. He came in his coat and now everything's good.

"He only does what you ask him to do. He's very willing about it, but if I don't ask the question, he doesn't give me the answer. So therefore you've got to be a bit mindful, you have to push a bit. It's only because he finds work so easy that he's not doing half as much work as some of the others might be.

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"But everything's been going well. He's had a couple of away days and he's been enjoying that. We schooled him last week, which was terrifying, and we're all ready.

Constitution Hill and Nico De Boinville jump the last in the Aintree Hurdle
Image: Constitution Hill and Nico de Boinville jump the last to win the Aintree Hurdle last season

"I'm just very happy where we are, there's a long season ahead so there's a bit of room for improvement I hope. We have a plan that I hope will come to fruition that will take us all the way through."

Henderson 'hopeful rather than extra confident' over Shishkin

Shishkin gave Henderson a headache after planting his feet and refusing to race in last weekend's 1965 Chase at Ascot, but, with the trainer eager to get a prep run into the nine-year-old ahead of the King George, he gets a chance to redeem himself in the Rehearsal Chase over almost three miles.

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He will shoulder 12 stone in the race, giving lumps of weight away to his seven rivals, headed by Ga Law and Datsalrightgino, who have both also been declared for the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury by Jamie Snowden.

The field is completed by Elvis Mail, Ciel De Neige. A Wave Of Sea, Empire Steel and Bill Baxter.

Henderson revealed he is still slightly baffled as to why Shishkin refused to race, but is hoping there will be no repeat, although a little frustrated that his charge cannot be given any third-party encouragement at the start.

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Henderson is praying Shishkin will not repeat his Ascot antics and successfully start Saturday's Rehearsal Chase

"It was not totally out of character [for Shishkin]," Henderson told Sky Sports Racing. "He can be quite stubborn and at the beginning of every season when we get him back in he is really quite a difficult creature and he has his moments. He stamps his feet and he can be awkward.

"So consequently I sent him over to Zara Tindall and he did four or five weeks' dressage over there to get him through that initial period without causing chaos at home and it did the world of good. He had to concentrate and he came back in and was in terrific shape, for him, straight away.

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Henderson sat down with Sky Sports Racing to reveal how Zara Tindall helped Shishkin's preparation for the new season

"There are various reasons for what happened the other day and none of which you could hang your hat on. Last week an edict came out from the BHA that the assistant starter can't walk in behind a horse with any sort of - we call it a long tom - which you don't touch the horse with it but the horse knows you are there, and there was nobody there.

"That's been taken away by the BHA in their wisdom and what happens two days later, you get a horse that doesn't jump off. If somebody had been behind him it wouldn't have been a problem.

"Consequently we are going to Newcastle which might sound a little bit brave because I'm not actually that familiar with the layout of Newcastle, because I don't actually go there very often.

"I was slightly disappointed to see that the three-mile start does go away from home. That is the issue we face. It's very much going to be the one in the King George, which is what we are doing this for. This is purely, and so was last Saturday, a prep for the King George. You feel you can't win a King George without a prep race. It would be very hard on any horse to do that, so we've got to go there.

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It is a big weekend for Henderson's team, including a highly-anticipated rules debut for 'talking horse' Jeriko De Reponet

"We've been hopeful rather than extra confident that this will work this time. We'll be taking various precautions but we're not allowed to do what we'd like to do.

"In practicality we've got two hurdles to jump, one is the start, but I'm more than hopeful that we will get over that one, and the next one obviously is the race itself of giving everybody - well it's basically 28lbs to the whole lot and there's one in the handicap.

"The rest he would have to give them more in a proper race but that doesn't make him a good thing just because he's got two or three pounds in hand. He's just got to get a race under his belt."

Watch all the action from Newcastle on Saturday live on Sky Sports Racing with the Fighting Fifth at 1.55pm and the Rehearsal Chase at 3.05pm.

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