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THE FESTIVAL™: SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE – REACTION AND STATISTICS

Article 15th March 2022 Cheltenham

Constitution Hill was the hugely impressive winner of the Grade One Sky Bet - Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race of The Festival™ at Cheltenham in 2022.  

The five year old came home 22 lengths clear of stable companion Jonbon in a course record time of 3m 44.31s to hand trainer Nicky Henderson a 1-2 in the extended 2m contest. 

It is a 71st victory at The Festival for trainer Nicky Henderson – the most successful British trainer of all time at the meeting. It is a fifth Supreme Novices’ Hurdle success for Henderson following River Ceiriog (1986), Flown (1992), Altior (2016) and Shishkin (2020).  

Jockey Nico de Boinville was recording his 14th victory at The Festival and his third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle following Altior (2016) and Shishkin (2020). 

It is a sixth Festival victory for owner Michael Buckley. 

Returned the 9-4 joint-favourite, Constitution Hill becomes the 12th successful market or joint market leader to prevail in the 50 runnings since 1972.  

Winning trainer Nicky Henderson said:  

The three of them were a long way clear by the time Dysart Dynamo fell, and no one wants to see that happen.  

“Jonbon is a very good horse - for Constitution Hill to do that to him is remarkable.  

It’s just nice to be back here with all these people who create that atmosphere - it means a lot. 

“It’s extraordinary that he is a genuine two-miler - I don’t know why, he’d stay two and half standing on his head, I think. He’s got an enormous turn of foot. He’s always just racing in two gears below everyone else, because it’s all so easy for him, and then you press the button and the turbo works. That’s the way he is at home and that’s the way he is on the racecourse, which is lovely. 

"That was awesome. I know what the second horse [Jonbon] is, so… I’d be very surprised if anything could have done that to Jonbon, so he must be extraordinary. The hype horse actually earlier on in the year was Jonbon, and then this fella woke up from his slumbers at home, and I stopped bothering Barry [Geraghty], asking him what this was he’d sent me, because we suddenly realised he was very good. He’s been very good, it was just how much he actually knew, because he’d only run in two hurdle races, with four runners in each. To go out there and go at that gallop - that’s the extraordinary thing, that he could travel so easily at that pace, and then pick it up. To find gears at the end of a headlong gallop like that is extraordinary. 

“Matt Chapman was begging me to put him in the Champion Hurdle this year, and he’ll be telling me what a fool I was not to, won’t he? We’ll see - he’s got his life in front of him. 

Aintree comes very quickly; he could go to Punchestown and we’ll say hello to Willie [Mullins] again and see what happens.” 

Successful owner Michael Buckley said:  

“Barry Geraghty’s kids all rode this horse when he was three years old; he can even manage to have a two- or three-year-old on his back! 

"I shook more and more as the race went on, but it wasn’t very stressful at the end, let’s say that. I was just shaking like a leaf. I couldn’t believe it - it’s wonderful. You’re a genius, man [to Nicky Henderson].” 

Successful jockey Nico de Boinville said:  

"I didn't have much choice to be honest. He was travelling so well. They've gone a really hard gallop. He just picked the bridle up. Delighted for his owner, Michael Buckley. He'll be absolutely ecstatic. And I'm sure you'll get some better quotes from him than me! But it's a great way to start the week. 

“It was staggering really. We have gone a really good gallop and I knew from the false start it was going to be fast and furious. To be fair he did it like a piece of work. He was just lobbing away in behind the bridle, very happy jumping away and then coming down the Dysart Dynamo slightly put the handbrake on and we’ve all started to stack up and I’ve nearly run into the back of them so I’ve just switched in and he has taken me all the way locked onto the bridle then it was just a case of point and shoot.  

“He had never been so fast in his life before as his previous runs had been on soft to heavy ground. I was so happy going to the last I was quite happy to let him do what he wanted. He has got an amazing engine and it is fantastic for Michael Buckley. He has put so much into the game and we have had our ups and downs all throughout my career at Seven Barrows and he has been with us through thick and thin. I’m just delighted it has all come right for him.  

“He could be anything. I’m sure he would jump a fence as well and where we go I don’t know. He has got so much scope. The feel he gave me schooling last week it was almost as if he would jump a fence. There will be a big discussion now and where we go from here, I don’t know.  

“He has blown them away and what is fantastic is that his temperament is so good. He walked down the horse walk on to the track on the buckle end. He was not fussed by anything and you can ride him whatever way you want. He doesn’t need cover or anything like that, he is just so straightforward.  

“It is that old adage that jockeys always say that they wouldn’t swap them for the world but I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done.  

“It is great. We set our stall out so let’s keep kicking now.  

“That was just a phenomenal performance from him. Hopefully there is more to come. It didn’t matter how many false starts they were going to have ans he was going to be absolutely fine where he was. It just showed there was going to be a lot of pace in the race and it certainly turned out that way.  

“I wish you could see into the future but that (making the switch inside) was a bit of luck but you need that around here.  

“The majority of us were here last year and it was dead to the world. You have got to give it to the crowd a bit and it is great to have them back and it is great to enjoy these moments with so many people.  

“Usually, you don’t hear the noise but I knew I was a fair bit in front and that I could enjoy the moment.” 

Retired jockey Barry Geraghty, who sourced Constitution Hill, said:  

“I would love to have been on board him today but I’m well detoxed from that. An image came into the mind that this could be possible and that he could do something magic as everything up until today had been magic.  

“He was a great individual as a foal with a nice pedigree without being exceptional, but he was just nice. His progression the whole way through from a foal to a two year old when we broke him in he was always going the right way and doing the right things.  

“He had a beautiful temperament but that won’t win you races. Whenever we looked under the hood there always seemed to be a bit more than the previous time.  

“I made it known when he was at the sales and the build up to that he could be a little bit different. Michael and Nicky had faith in me and they followed my advice and it has played out well today.  

“This is massive. To have had him as a foal and have photos of the kids leading him and riding him and messing in the field with him like a pet to have that connection was great. I would have had it with Bob’s Worth when I was younger but I didn’t have the family at the time and he is a similar character. To have that family connection, and the connection I have with Nicky who I rode plenty for and Michael who has been a great supporter is fantastic. Fairytales don’t usually happen but this was one.  

“There were no anxious moments. The pace of the race was brilliant and Nico switched him in when Dysart Dynamo fell and that was an important move. You talk about jockeymanship and instinct you need and that was a bit of a crystal ball moment. Nico sensed he was not the one to be behind as that could have been bubble burst. It was amazing to watch and I didn’t think I would have this feeling in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure for a long time.” 

 

Aidan Coleman, rider of second home Jonbon, said: 

“That was a special performance by the winner, but my horse ran incredibly well. He’s a free sweater but that’s it - he’s always the same. He’s a pleasure to ride.  

“I hear it was an exceptional time, but they are exceptional horses. It’s beautiful ground - on the soft side of good.” 

 

Willie Mullins, trainer of Kilcruit (3rd) Bring On The Night (4th) and Dysart Dynamo (9-4 Joint Favourite, fell) said:  

““I’ve spoken to Paul (Townend) and he’s good after the fall and he just picked the wrong option. He went left and the horse went right but he seems right. He went very fast throughout the race, so it doesn’t look as though he’d win it. Constitution Hill was a very worthy winner. 

“Kilcruit ran well but it appears what we all thought that he probably wants two and a half miles. He won his trial over two miles, so we came here for that and today he looked like he needs another half mile. It’s the same with Bring On The Night who was having his second run over hurdles and I’m happy with him. Both of those will go up in trip.” 

 

Patrick Mullins, rider of Kilcruit (3rd) said:  

“We’ve gone a very strong gallop and my lad has just been flat out all the way. His jumping was a little bit scrappy, so he probably wants stepping up in trip. 

“The ground is good”. 

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