Willie Mullins hailed Constitution Hill as “a proper champion hurdler” after watching Nicky Henderson’s charge take apart the field in the first day highlight at the Cheltenham Festival.
The perennial Irish champion trainer fielded second-favourite State Man in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, with the Irish raider sent off a 7-2 shot in comparison to Constitution Hill’s 4-11 favourite tag.
State Man tracked Constitution Hill and briefly looked set to make a race of it turning for home – but the instant reaction when Nico de Boinville pushed the button on the market leader left State Man and jockey Paul Townend trailing in his wake.
State Man, who came into the race on the back of four Grade One wins and six successive victories in total, went down by nine lengths to the Michael Buckley-owned Constitution Hill, who was having his first run since winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Mullins said: “We ran very well, we just met a proper champion hurdler.
“We were happy, we’ve no excuses. Well done to Nicky and Michael and the team.
“Nico gave him a brave man’s ride. He set out and had the confidence he was on the best horse.
“I’m delighted for all the connections.”
Townend admitted he knew he was beaten some way out, lauding the winner as an “outstanding horse”.
He said: “We ran well. We were running for second I thought from a long way out.
“Nico was doing everything easily in front of me and all credit to the winner and his connections – they have an outstanding horse.
“From the back of the second-last, when Nico started to open up his lad, he was just getting further and further away from me.
“I have nothing but admiration for him (Constitution Hill).”
Gordon Elliott saddled 66-1 shot Zanahiyr to finish third and he was more than happy with the result.
He said: “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, was similarly impressed with the unbeaten Constitution Hill.
He 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.”
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