‘He brings a tear to my eye. He’s unique’
Trainer pays tribute to Constitution Hill who is up with the greats after storming to Champion Hurdle glory
EXPECTATION can be a dangerous thing in jump racing, there is a potential banana skin at the back of every hurdle.
That is why a voice was whispering a reminder in your ear to keep at least one foot on the floor ahead of Constitution Hill’s run in the Champion Hurdle yesterday. Just under four minutes after the starting tape went up that caution was banished forever. Why had we been worried?
Everything Constitution Hill had done in his five races had made him look like an exceptional horse and the conclusive proof archsceptics needed was delivered in spades with an effortless ninelength victory from Irish Champion Hurdle-winner State Man. Almost 65,000 spectators at the home of jump racing did not really cheer him home. Let’s face it, the Nicky Henderson-trained six-yearold was the 4-11 favourite so hardly a bet for a working man.
Instead, as Constitution Hill strode away up the climb to the Cheltenham finish line, the crowd as one began to applaud in admiration. It is not a reaction you get often on a racecourse but it happened at Newmarket in April 2011 when the great Frankel spreadeagled the field in the 2,000 Guineas.
The knowledgeable Newmarket crowd appreciated what they had seen that day but, arguably, Frankel — who was trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil — did not touch the wider public consciousness until over a year later when he stormed home in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Constitution Hill did all that in one race — only the sixth of his career — yesterday. He seems to be doing everything in a hurry on the field, which is tad ironic given that he is the archetypal lazybones off it. If he was human, Constitution Hill would be captain of the cricket, football, rugby, tennis — and any sport you can think of — team but be a regular in detention for not doing his homework, or at least handing it in a day late.
Nico de Boinville’s first Champion Hurdle win was achieved with all the effort of a Sunday morning jog, with the jockey never having to get serious with him.
CONSTITUTION Hill jumped faster and more accurately than his six opponents. He also travelled so sweetly on the shoulder of the pace-setting I Like To Move It until De Boinville eased him into the lead approaching the thirdlast hurdle. If this had been a boxing match the referee would have stepped in on the home turn to prevent his pummelled rivals picking up any more unnecessary punishment. Going into the race the renowned Timeform organisation already rated Constitution Hill as the joint seventh- best hurdler of all time — the guess is he will have climbed the ladder after yesterday.
Henderson, 72, has remarkably now won nine Champion Hurdles in a 45-year training career. understandably, he was emotional after the race. This time last year he had the worry that his fading eyesight might mean his career ended before he wanted it to.
Life- changing treatment has helped restore his vision to a level where he can plan long-term and that is pretty exciting given the man who trained stars such as Altior, Sprinter Sacre, Remittance Man and the three-time Champion Hurdle winner See You Then may just have his hands on the best horse he has ever trained.
‘I’ve watery eyes,’ Henderson said. ‘I always have done but that would bring a tear to most eyes when you see a horse like that it is pretty unique.’
Physically, Constitution Hill is not an archetypal hurdler. He has the scope and size of a steeplechaser and that will be what he tries at some point. Henderson was only half joking when he suggested the Ascot Gold Cup over two and a half miles at Royal Ascot on the Flat might be an option.
On a day the Irish won five of the seven races — and they have stacked up chances for the next three days — Constitution Hill’s victory had significance for the home team. They may be outnumbered and seriously outgunned but they have a champion to rally round and what a champion he is.
An admiring spectator to what Constitution Hill achieved was 20time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, a man for whom hyperbole is a foreign language.
He was in the ranks of the very impressed. ‘You want to see “I was there’’ moments in racing,’ McCoy said. ‘There are not a lot of them. But this was one. People talk about great horses of the past like Arkle but he looks like he could be the horse of a generation and one that will be talked about for many generations after.
‘You look at him and think how many Champion Hurdles can he win or could he do a Dawn Run and win a Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup. He looks like one of those horses who can do whatever you want to do with him. I am not playing down what Nico de Boinville has to do on him but he looks a push-button ride. It will be like driving a car, a very fast car.’