MARCUS TOWNEND: Constitution Hill is a star that has an F1 engine
MARCUS TOWNEND: Constitution Hill is an equine star that has an F1 engine and Volvo reliability… he is going to be very hard to stop at Cheltenham
- Constitution Hill is the horse that all eyes will be on for the Champion Hurdle
- The race favourite has an F1 engine and is also an extremely reliable horse
- Constitution Hill failing to win on the opening day would be a seismic shock
- Click here for the latest Cheltenham Festival news, schedule and race results
Get there early, get a good view. If you are lucky enough to be one of the thousands flooding into the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday, do not miss it. This could be an ‘I was there’ moment.
If you are at home, tune in, sit back and take it all in because the remarkable Constitution Hill will stake his claim to be one of the greatest jump horses of all time when he guns for the Champion Hurdle on the opening day.
Constitution Hill, who is the incredibly short odds of 1-3 favourite to beat his six rivals, has only raced five times — but each time he has destroyed the field.
He has captured the imagination of the racing public but today can move front and centre of the general public’s consciousness. The six-year-old has been hailed as the perfect racehorse — an equine athlete with an F1 engine and the laid-back temperament and reliability of a Volvo.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has already won the Champion Hurdle a record eight times but in Constitution Hill, a gelding he describes as ‘extraordinary’, his ninth success could be the most spectacular yet.
Constitution Hill (pictured) is the overwhelming favourite for the Champion Hurdle
Constitution Hill could easily have an impact on the sport as far-reaching as the great Frankel, the colt rated the best ever to race on the Flat, who won all his 14 races for his late trainer, Sir Henry Cecil.
On Tuesday afternoon in front of a day one Festival crowd of almost 65,000 and with hundreds of thousands watching on television, the stage is set to send the message of his brilliance worldwide.
‘Constitution Hill obviously has a huge amount of ability,’ an excited Henderson said on Monday, ‘but his most potent weapon is that he channels it in the right direction.
‘It’s his mind which sets him apart. He is so uncomplicated. He eats. He sleeps, he works. In a race I don’t think it would make any difference whether you went two miles or three. You can ride him how you want.
‘One must not get too carried away at this stage of life. He is only a young horse. He has got quite a long way to go but visually he has been very impressive every time he has run. You can’t fault what he has done. We have been lucky enough to train a lot of nice horses and when these sort of things come along you find yourself being the minder of a piece of public property.’
Constitution Hill was beaten in his sole point-to-point race in Ireland but he has cleaned up in every race he has contested under rules by a double-digit margin of lengths. That includes winning last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this day by a yawning 22 lengths.
In doing so he smashed the course record and completed the contest in a massive 5.78 seconds — around 23 lengths — faster than Honeysuckle won the 2022 Champion Hurdle over the same course and distance.
His career may be in its infancy but the renowned Timeform organisation, which rates the performances of racehorses, already have Constitution Hill as the joint-seventh best hurdler of all time.
Above him in the list are only Istabraq and Persian War, both three-time winners of the Champion Hurdle, dual Champion Hurdle winners Night Nurse, Comedy Of Errors and Monksfield plus ace French hurdler Le Sauvignon.
The most amazing part of the Constitution Hill story is his temperament. A monster on the track, he is a teddy bear off it. He was bought as a foal by Henderson’s former stable jockey Barry Geraghty before being sold on to owner Michael Buckley. In those formative years Geraghty’s three young daughters Siofra, Orla and Rian all rode him.
‘It’s a bit unheard of and he is the only one they have ridden, Geraghty said. ‘He was the most laid-back horse ever. We have had some other nice horses but never anything as horizontal as him!’
So laid back is Constitution Hill that in his early days in Henderson’s Lambourn stables he was considered so slow and lazy that he was blamed for holding up the whole string. Henderson even phoned his former jockey to seek reassurance that he had not been sold a dud.
‘One morning we put a rider on him,’ Henderson said, ‘and shouted, “For Christ sake would you give this thing a bit of a wake-up to see if it is any good”. All of a sudden it came up the gallop on its own. He was literally a furlong in front of the other two that he had set off behind and the rider wasn’t exactly pushing him. He had found the button.’
Trainer Nicky Henderson (pictured) has labelled Constitution Hill as an ‘extraordinary’ horse
A win for Constitution Hill would be a massive morale booster for the British owners who are once again facing a daunting Cheltenham challenge from the Irish who won 18 of the 28 races last year and 23 races in 2021, which was humiliating for the home team.
Should the Irish be limited to 18 wins this time over the four days there will be British relief and anything better will mean it is time to crack open the champagne.
In the ante-post markets, where punters place bets ahead of the meeting starting, Irish runners head the betting in 21 of the 28 races. Most ominously of all, Irish trainer Willie Mullins, whose 88 Festival wins make him the most successful in the history of the meeting, looks to have the ammunition that could help him beat his record 2022 haul of 10 wins. Incredibly, he is set to have over 80 runners over the next four days.
But he does not have Constitution Hill.
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