Constitution Hill adds Christmas Hurdle to his CV

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They flocked to see him at Newcastle, more still arrived at Kempton to marvel at his abilities and in 78 days there will be an even greater sense of anticipation awaiting Constitution Hill when he lines up on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival as the sport’s undoubted superstar.

Near enough all in attendance at Kempton expected Constitution Hill to canter to victory – he was 1-7 favourite for the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle – but being present to witness his brilliance on display was enough to pack out the steppings around the parade ring and in the stands. It will likely be in the Unibet Champion Hurdle on March 14 that the public gets its next opportunity to see him in action.

It could not have been any easier for him at a sunbathed Kempton. Indeed, Nico de Boinville was adamant his partner had been “dossing” for most of the race, only waking up after making a small error at the penultimate hurdle. A shake of the reins and Constitution Hill was away and gone, finishing 17 lengths clear of Epatante, who he had dismissed by 12 lengths at Newcastle.

“He’s an amazing racehorse and you can just ride him any way you like,” De Boinville said. “He had Metier on his girths the whole way around and he was just cantering. 

“I did think he was dossing turning in and that’s why he made a little mistake at the second-last, he just needed waking up a bit. The whole race I didn’t think I was out of second, or at most third, gear.”

“Jesus Christ!,” Sophie Henderson, Nicky Henderson’s wife, said as the pair exited the owners’ viewing area and headed down the steps to greet their extraordinary winner.

As for the trainer, he displayed a potent mixture of delight, relief and excitement as he reviewed the performance.

“He doesn’t disappoint anyone, does he?,” Henderson said. “He’s push button and Nico knows where and when to push that button and off he goes. 

“He’s got such a good mind and that makes such a huge difference training a horse like that. Over the years we’ve been lucky to have some very nice horses, but the better they’ve got, and when you see them going off at prices like he did today for a Grade 1, you do get a bit scared.”

Having applauded Constitution Hill out of the parade ring, the crowd cheered him back in – his unnatural level of talent resonating with those present as the five-year-old’s poster boy status within racing only grows.

They will have to wait to see him again, though, with Henderson having his sights set firmly on the Champion Hurdle, for which he remains the general 2-7 favourite.

The Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and the Jenningbet Kingwell Hurdle were ruled out as options for Constitution Hill, while Henderson again lamented the loss of the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown in February. The Irish Champion Hurdle was not totally discarded, but it is a big outsider to feature in the star hurdler’s plans.

“My gut feeling was always that he’d go straight to Cheltenham as I’m not sure Haydock will do anything for him and neither would the Kingwell,” Henderson said.

“Most trainers would agree that having an ‘away game’ as close to Cheltenham as the Irish Champion Hurdle is not the way you’d choose to prepare a horse for a race like the Champion Hurdle. 

“Aintree is four weeks after Cheltenham, which is a plus, but then Punchestown comes a bit too soon after that. It’s a shame that it’s a truncated season with only four runs, but that’s what it’s come down to. The Champion Hurdle is what this season is about. After that, who knows?”

Courtesy of Racing Post