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Cheltenham Festival: Nico de Boinville profile

As stable jockey to the Nicky Henderson yard, Nico de Boinville is assured of having the ammunition required to be competitive when the Cheltenham Festival rolls around.

He's amongst the leading jockeys in Britain but de Boinville so very nearly quit his job at Seven Barrows before it had even begun in earnest.

The mighty Constitution Hill will be the pressure-packed ride of the week come Cheltenham, given the intense level of scrutiny on the 1/3 Champion Hurdle favourite's every move, but it doesn't appear overly likely that de Boinville will succumb to any level of pressure applied when it comes to racing.

Skipping class to see Best Mate

It's fair to suggest that de Boinville didn't come from a racing background. His father was an insurance broker and he attended boarding school, from where he recalls his obsession with racing growing, while all around him were much more likely to be watching football.

"I definitely snuck out of a couple of lessons to watch Best Mate," he said in an interview ahead of Cheltenham 2022. "It was then that Cheltenham came on my radar, because before that I was massively into Flat racing."

He would enlist himself for a degree in politics at Newcastle University but didn't manage to see out a full year, instead preferring to fully focus himself on racing.

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To succeed as an elite sportsman, a level of drive and commitment is required but, also, a mind sharp enough to know what can and cannot be achieved. To that end, he wasn't going to dither in racing if the dream was fading.

"The timelines were set by myself. I said: 'You [have] until you're 25 to see what you can do.' I'm very much a realist."

Learning from the very best at Seven Barrows

After a stint in France with UK ex-pat Richard Gibson, de Boinville found himself at Henderson's Seven Barrows where he says he was not even amongst the top three amateur riders when he arrived.

At the time, the likes of Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy were routinely riding for Henderson and de Boinville watched intently as those iconic riders performed, taking his time not to ask questions until he'd begun to establish himself.

That didn't happen overnight. From May 2009 until April 2012 he had two winners in 30 rides and, aged 22, he handed in his notice and had a return to France in his mind.

Luckily, by that point, Henderson had seen enough to believe he had a talent in his ranks and he refused to accept de Boinville's notice. Slowly, doors began to open and opportunities arose.

Coneygree's fairytale win puts rider on the map

His maiden winner at the Cheltenham Festival came in 2014 for Henderson on board Whisper in the Coral Cup but it was a year later that de Boinville really announced himself.

Coneygree became the first novice in four decades to win the Gold Cup and trainers Mark and Sara Bradstock, having taken the brave decision to run their rising star in the Blue Riband, resisted calls to seek a more experienced jockey.

De Boinville gave Coneygree a masterful ride and they made Gold Cup history together.

A year later, he partnered Sprinter Sacre in his redemptive 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase success, one of the truly great Cheltenham Festival moments of this century.

Altior (2018 & 2019) has given two more wins in that race, though there was major disappointment last March when Shishkin pulled up in the Champion Chase.

Something new for latest Supreme winner

Both Altior and Shiskin have given him Grade 1 novice wins via the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle too.

Unlike those two previous outstanding novice hurdlers, the 2022 winner Constitution Hill is something a bit different.

He smashed the Old Course record in winning by a wide margin last March and has graduated into open Grade 1 company this season with real style, winning the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles in emphatic fashion.

He's unbeaten and now the poster boy for National Hunt racing ahead of the Champion Hurdle on 14th March. Constitution Hill is 1/3 to win, with his main challenger State Man 11/4 following his recent Irish Champion Hurdle win.

It's hard to believe that de Boinville will ever have gone into a Cheltenham Festival race with more pressure on his shoulders. The need to deliver will be intense, but it's unlikely this polished performer, in and out of the saddle, will have any major worries in terms of handling the glare of the spotlight.

It will be a battle he really needs to win if he's going to harbour claims of being returned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival for the first time. De Boinville is 7/1 for that honour and the Constitution Hill v State Man battle will be a direct set-to with 1/5 favourite Paul Townend.

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