Constitution Hill truly matched his reputation when coming home a hugely-impressive winner of the 93rd running of the Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham today. Returned the 4-11 Favourite, he is the shortest-priced winner of the Champion Hurdle in its history.
Partnered by Nico de Boinville, the result was never in doubt as the six year old Blue Bresil gelding travelled supremely well throughout and went clear on the home turn to win as he liked by nine lengths.
Winning trainer Nicky Henderson said: “He can be very long. You can do anything with this horse. You could jump a fence, you could go three miles. He has had six races now and has barely come off the bridle, but it won’t last forever so let’s enjoy it while we have got it. Sprinter did amazing things for us and the emotion behind him for his comeback was unbelievable. This horse has got into those echelons after six races. It is an extraordinary thing to happen but he is an extraordinary horse. He is a freak. I said to Nico let’s keep it as simple as you possibly can ,and he did.
“I’ve watery eyes, I always have had and I always will have but that would bring a tear to most eyes when you see a horse quite like that as I think that is pretty unique. I had 12 months of them (anxious moments) but that is our life. I think as it gets closer and closer you get even more anxious. Have you done this or have you done that. There is a brilliant team behind him and they have done fantastic.
“We all know the last few weeks are horrible. I hope I’ve not been too bad but they have been brilliant behind us. One of these comes around in a lifetime. You have got to have a lot of horses to find one of these. That is only the sixth race of his life and he is doing that now. We have had some wonderful days with Sprinter Sacre in particular. This horse is going to extraordinary levels at the moment and we are lucky to be the custodian of him but a lot of responsibility goes with it.”
The successful jockey Nico de Boinville said: “We always had a plan just to do that, and then you could go backwards and forwards according to how you wanted to do it - you just didn’t want to get into trouble. I wasn’t quite sure what the Willie Mullins camp were going to do; it was interesting to me when Vauban lined up, and I thought, ‘oh, right’, and then I saw State Man was tracking me. Sam Twiston-Davies set some lovely fractions [on I Like To Move It] there so I could just stop-start, stop-start, because his jumping took me there all the time, and I could use the hills to fill him up again. I didn’t see one at the last, but he did, so… I had visions of Annie Power! But I thought, ‘well done, he knows better than me’, but in actual fact he was on his hocks and so was able to elevate up and out of it. He was foot-perfect all the way.
“The past year has been great. Obviously, you wanted to get through all the preliminary races - the Fighting Fifth, we had a great reception up there, then the Christmas Hurdle. And in actual fact two weeks before coming into this I decided to switch off [all media] - it was just white noise and it was just getting ridiculous, everyone was talking about it. We thought we’d just focus on ourselves and on what was going on at Seven Barrows. Sean who rides him every day has done a fantastic job, the guvnor [Nicky Henderson] has got him in great order. I think he has proved to everyone what a fabulous racehorse he is.
“I’m absolutely delighted for Michael [Buckley]; he’s got a fabulous racehorse on his hands and he has put so much into the game. He’s a maverick owner in that he will try new things and will try anything, so where we go now, I don’t know.
“He could do anything - I’m sure we will try him over a fence at some point. I guess we don’t want to pigeon-hole him just as a hurdler; he could be anything. I think he’d be good over a fence. As racing fans, that’s what we want to see. I find in recent years horses have tended to get pigeon-holed too much, bar Faugheen. It could be interesting, and he’s still so young.
“All those horses [Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Coneygree] are fantastic in their own right and they belong in their own era. I don’t like to do that [compare them and decide on a ‘best’], and this is my first Champion Hurdler and my first top, top two-mile hurdler. Today he was fantastic and I don’t think anything would get anywhere near him.
“It was all very smooth today. You saw him - as soon as he got to the front, he pricked his ears and said, ‘come on, let’s go, go and do the business.’. He’s so straightforward and these Blue Bresils, they seem to bring that element of attitude to the game. He takes it all in his stride - he’s so relaxed.
“I love watching Nicky with any of his horses. He’s an absolute master of getting them to peak at any time; I just love being in the yard and enjoying the ride. It’s fantastic to watch him, knowing that I could never do that or have that intuition or instinct. I just try to enjoy it and relax.”
Successful owner Michael Buckley said: “I first came here when I was 19 when the three big races were the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup and I never thought I’d own a horse let alone have runner in this or have a winner in this. I can’t say I’ve had a better day on the racecourse ever.
“I think probably not (going to Ireland) this year. It is a rare year in that such a nice long gap between here and Aintree. Maybe we will think about that another day. I’d like to come to Ireland.”
Former jockey Barry Geraghty rode a joint-record four Champion Hurdle winner. He also sold Constitution Hill to owner Michael Buckley. He said: “That was my scariest moment at Cheltenham. I’ve been fine all the way then 15 minutes before the race it started hitting me. I don’t normally get anxious but I watched the race with Nicky, Sophie and Michael and that was magic.
“There was relief with every jump. He is brilliant at what he does but he is just so special. To see the crowds here shows that everyone has brought into him and he keeps delivering. There is no doubt he is very special but he is very special to everyone connected with him. I’ve had my kids all ride him at home and that is both unusual and different. It is surreal to watch him play with the opposition how he does. He is a real natural. He is trained by a genius and ridden by one to. Nico kept it so simple and that is not always the easiest thing to do at Cheltenham. He went out with a plan and he has stuck with it. You eliminate potential risks doing that and let the horse do the talking. It was a piece of magic.”
Charlie Swan, who partnered Istabraq to three Champion Hurdle wins (1998, 1999, 2000) said: “I thought it was amazing and he is an absolutely brilliant horse. He jumps brilliantly and Nico gave him a great ride. He had him in the right place. You can never compare eras, but I was glad he was not around when Istabraq was around. He looks a hell of a horse.
“You can see him doing what Istabraq did but it is very hard for them to do it. You have to keep them sound and keep them right and in good form. It is not an easy job. All the crowd think you just turn up next year but it is not as easy as that as there is a lot of training involved but there couldn’t be a better man than Nicky to do it. We had nothing in the race but it definitely gave me goose bumps. I’m a good friend of Michael’s so I was delighted to see him win.”
Willie Mullins, trainer of the runner-up State Man (7-2) and the fourth-placed Vauban (16-1), commented: “We ran very well, we’ve just met a proper champion hurdler so we’ve no excuses.
“Well done to Nicky (Henderson) and Michael (Buckley) and all the team. Nico (de Boinville) gave him a brave man’s ride, he had the confidence he was on the best horse and that was the race he rode – I’m delighted for all connections.”
Trainer Gordon Elliott said of third placed Zanahiyr: "It was a great run to finish third behind a horse like the winner. There is a good chance he could go to Aintree and step back up to two and a half miles next month.
"He was still in with a big chance at that meeting last year but unluckily fell at the last hurdle. It would be great to see him make amends."
Rich Ricci, owner of fourth home Vauban, said: "I think we might have been third but we tried to win the race and in the end we had no chance against a freak of a horse, and I say that in the nicest way, as he (the winner) is very, very good."
3.30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m ½f
1. Constitution Hill 4/11F
2. State Man 7/2
3. Zanahiyr 66/1
Distances: 9, 4
Time: 3m 59.38s
16th winner at The Festival for jockey Nico de Boinville
73rd winner at The Festival for trainer Nicky Henderson
7th winner at The Festival for owner Michael Buckley
Record-extending ninth Unibet Champion Hurdle for trainer Nicky Henderson after See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D’Air (2017 & 2018) and Epatante (2020).
Constitution Hill is the shortest-priced winner ever of the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
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