Everybody agrees that Constitution Hill is out of the ordinary, one of the greatest Champion Hurdle winners there has been.
But what no one can agree on is what race where we will see him line up in at Cheltenham a year from now.
Will Nicky Henderson and Michael Buckley stick to the same path or head in a different direction? And, if so, what is the destination?
The uncertainty was reflected on Luck On Sunday - Nick Luck and all his guests had different ideas - and by the ante-post betting for next year’s Festival, with the six-year-old quoted at single-figure price for no fewer than five different races.
The picture may become a little clearer after his next intended outing at Aintree next month, although it seems unlikely. Here’s a look at the options for next campaign plus a suggested ante-post wager.
Odds: quoted between 4-7 and Evens (Betfair)
Barring mishaps, a second (perhaps third and fourth) Champion Hurdle looks at the mercy of Constitution Hill. But it’s not that straightforward.
There’s nothing among the current crop of two-milers that can touch him, while top novices Marine Nationale and Impaire Et Pass face an unenviable task reaching his level. And that’s if they even stay over hurdles.
Going into last Tuesday’s renewal, he was already rated higher than the past seven winners of the race and after trouncing State Man by a long-looking nine lengths, there’s surely no doubt he is among the greatest two-mile hurdlers there has been.
But Buckley, 77, had said beforehand on Luck On Sunday that, all things being equal, he’d like to try something new next season. He has a sense of adventure and, in effect, said “where would be fun in doing the same all over again”. It’s a refreshing outlook.
Henderson, 72, may take a bit of persuading, but probably not much, even if none of his previous five winners of the race (eight triumphs between them) subsequently ran over fences. The pair have a monster on his hands. Why not explore exactly what he might achieve?
If Constitution Hill didn’t school well or was not so effective in his early spins over fences, then he would no doubt be swiftly be returned to hurdling. But a best quote of Evens for a race 12 months from now that may not even be top of his agenda makes absolutely no appeal.
Odds: quoted between 5-2 and 4-1 (Coral)
The bookmakers seem agreed that the Arkle is the most likely aim for Constitution Hill if he is sent chasing.
There’s no doubt he has the speed for the race. He’s a two-time Festival winner. His jumping technique over hurdles has been flawless. And I cannot think there will have been a higher-rated hurdler to have made the switch in disciplines.
That’s four big boxes ticked.
But Buckley’s dream will be that he has a Gold Cup contender on his hands – one capable of emulating Dawn Run, the only horse in history to have won the Champion Hurdle and chasing’s blue riband.
Working backwards from the 2025 Gold Cup, would next season’s Arkle, over 2m on the Old Course, fit in the long-term project? I’m not convinced.
Odds: quoted between 5-2 and 7-1 (Unibet)
Now we’re talking. Unibet make Constitution Hill a standout 7-1 for the Turners and that appeals as a decent ante-post wager.
It’s a less frenetic race than the Arkle and if the Gold Cup is the long-term target, then this would provide a bigger clue as to his stamina reserves. And, of course, it would give him experience of the New Course, or more experience of it depending on his programme beforehand.
Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs would have won the Turners last year, but for his unfortunate final-fence fall.
Constitution Hill clearly has bundles of pace, but I’ll be surprised if he is not equally as effective over at least 2m4f.
He’s been strong at the finish of all his races without being anything like fully extended, including on heavy ground at Sandown last year when landing the Tolworth.
He probably would have won his sole run in a point-to-point, over 3m at Tipperary, had he not made an error at the last, keeping on at the finish.
His pedigree is also encouraging in terms of moving up his trip. His sire, Blue Bresil, was unusual in that he ran over hurdles before becoming a stallion (he once ran future Gold Cup winner Long Run close in a juvenile hurdle) and his dam, Queen Of The Stage, ran creditably at up to 2m5f over hurdles.
Queen Of The Stage is a daughter of the mighty King’s Theatre, whose many Festival winners included stayers such as Balthazar King, Wichita Lineman, The Druids Nephew and Brindisi Breeze. And his great grandam was sired by Supreme Leader, whose progeny included two Grand National runners-up in Supreme Glory and What’s Up Boys.
Of all the ante-post prices quoted, this is the one that makes most appeal.
Odds: quoted between 8-1 and 10-1 (Unibet)
It’s unlikely, isn’t it?
If Constitution Hill is switched to fences, you’d imagine (ground permitting) he might start off taking the same route as Altior did in 2016 - the 2m2f novice chase at Kempton in November followed by the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown – before perhaps moving up in trip, or in to open company.
However, there will surely be no requirement for Buckley and Henderson to look this far under the bonnet next term.
Odds: quoted between 6-1 and 10-1 (SkyBet and Unibet)
It will be one thing for Buckley to convince Henderson to go chasing with Constitution Hill, but surely quite another to ask him to consider a tilt at the Champion Chase.
I can’t recall the last novice to run in the race, let alone win in it.
Altior and Sprinter Sacre, trained by Henderson, would have been good enough to contest it as novices, having stepped out of company and been impressive winners of the Game Spirit beforehand. But both resisted the main stage and instead beat inferior rivals in the Arkle the following month.
It’s difficult to believe Henderson will change the rules, even if Constitution Hill is a horse who might just be able to rip up the thickest of rule books.
Ante-post suggestion: Back Constitution Hill for the Turners at 7-1 with Unibet.
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