Donn's Articles » Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill

There was never a point in the Champion Hurdle at which you thought that Constitution Hill wouldn’t win.  There was never a point in the race at which Nico de Boinville looked anxious.  

The rider kept it simple.  No need to complicate things when you are on the best horse.  Up on the outside, no horse in front of you, not far off the leaders.  Reduce the potential for ill-luck as much as you can.

The Blue Bresil gelding travelled from flagfall and his jumping was superb.  I Like To Move It is not a bad jumper, but Constitution Hill gained ground on the leader at every single obstacle as they raced down the back straight.  Fast and low and sharp, cat-like over his hurdles, and landing running.  

The only moment of worry in the race was at the final flight, where he was long, but that all happened so fast, you didn’t have time to worry about it until it was over.  He lifted his forelegs high enough to get over the top bar of the hurdle, and the rest of his body followed, flowing, over the obstacle and up the run-in into history.

Nicky Henderson’s horse was sent off at 4/11 for the 2023 Champion Hurdle, the shortest-priced Champion Hurdle winner in the near 100-year history of the race.  Shorter than Istabraq, shorter than See You Then, shorter than Bula, shorter than Sir Ken.  His reputation and his body of work thus far dictated that.  His Betfair SP was 1.39, and at no point in the race did he trade at any bigger than that. 

So what next?  That’s the thing about racing.  Whatever you do, whatever you achieve, however high you do, it isn’t long before somebody asks the question: what’s the plan now?

The route to the decision will surely be an enjoyable one for owner Michael Buckley and trainer Nicky Henderson, because Constitution Hill could do anything.  He is obviously a brilliant hurdler.  In the history of Timeform ratings, only five two-mile hurdlers have been rated higher than he is: Night Nurse, Istabraq, Monksfield, Persian War and Comedy Of Errors.  Already, he is up there among the hurdling legends, and he is still only six, he has raced just six times over hurdles.

He could stay over hurdles and, all things being equal, providing he remains healthy and well and sound – and that is the caveat that goes with all potential future plans – he could win more Champion Hurdles.  Five horses have won three Champion Hurdles: Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq.  That’s an exclusive club and, if he stays over hurdles, fitness and wellness allowing, it is not difficult to envisage a successful hat-trick bid.

There would be a symmetry to that.  Nicky Henderson trained See You Then to win his three Champion Hurdles in the 1980s, at the dawn of his training career.  No trainer has trained two triple Champion Hurdle winners.  Also, Constitution Hill brought up the trainer’s ninth Champion Hurdle last week.  If he were to win the race next year, that would bring up another milestone.

Also, no horse has ever won four Champion Hurdles.  Istabraq could have added a fourth in 2001, but Foot And Mouth intervened.  JP McManus’ horse was nine years old then.  Constitution Hill is only six, the same age as Istabraq was when he won his first Champion Hurdle.

There is also the option to go chasing next season, and that is the option that owner Michael Buckley appears to be favouring, with the Gold Cup the ultimate objective.  There is the lure of history there too, because Dawn Run is still the only horse who has won the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.

That would obviously be a massive ask.  There is a reason why Dawn Run stands alone.  Racing history is littered with top class hurdlers who simply weren’t as good over fences.

The two races test different attributes.  The Champion Hurdle, a two-mile race over hurdles, is largely a test of speed and efficiency over relatively small obstacles.  The Gold Cup, a steeplechase run over an extended three and a quarter miles, tests stamina and an ability to negotiate larger obstacles proficiently.  Common to both races, though, is the fact that both are tests of pace and class, and they are attributes that Constitution Hill obviously has in abundance.  It’s not quite like looking for an athlete who can win both the pole vault and the 100-metre butterfly.  It’s more like looking for one who can win the 400-metre hurdles and the 3000-metre steeplechase.

And if he were to go over fences next season, what path would Constitution Hill take?  Would he be kept to novice races?  A novice chase at Kempton, followed by the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown, then the Wayward Lad Chase back at Kempton?  Maybe the Scilly Isles Chase after that?  Then the Arkle?  Or would he step up into open company earlier?  There was also talk of ‘not wasting a season’ in novice chases.  Of targeting the Champion Chase next March, not the Arkle.

The spread of odds available on Constitution Hill at next year’s Cheltenham Festival provides an indication of the range of options that appear to be open to him now.  Best price about him winning the Champion Hurdle next year at this stage is 5/4, and that looks about right, given the uncertainty surrounding the path that he will take.  But he is also available at no better than 4/1 for the Arkle, 6/1 for the Turners Chase, 12/1 for the Champion Chase, 14/1 for the Brown Advisory Chase, and 25/1 for the Gold Cup.  That’s next year’s Gold Cup, not the 2025 Gold Cup.  And he is as short as 16/1 in places.

To put that into context, if you bet proportionate stakes on Constitution Hill winning all those races – and he can only run in one of them at most – then, if he does win one of them, you will win just 3% of your stake.  According to the odds, then, best odds available, at present, it is almost certain that he will win one of those races.  Enjoy the ride.

© The Sunday Times, 26th March 2023