"This is a bit of a freak" - Nicky Henderson gives his full reaction to Lydia Hislop
Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill was an easy winner of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The five-year-old is unbeaten under rules and was a 1-4 chance going into the Grade One, odds that did not look unfounded as he made all of the running and jumped with complete fluency.
Partnered by Nico de Boinville, he pulled clear of stablemate and two-time winner Epatante, crossing the line at a canter to win by 12 lengths with any amount in hand.
Paddy Power cut Constitution Hill from evens to 8-11 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, with Coral going 4-7 from 5-4 for the Cheltenham highlight.
Henderson was not at Newcastle, instead opting to saddle his Newbury runners, but the trainer was thoroughly impressed with the performance.
He said: “He’s an amazing horse. I couldn’t have been happier with Epatante, she’s run a great race and she’s been in terrific form. For him to do that to her, when she’s won one and a half times over the last two years, is ridiculous really.
“She came and galloped here 10 days ago, she’s in cracking form, she won it last year and the year before and yet, I have to say I felt sorry for her. She’s a wonderful filly, she was second in the Champion Hurdle last year yet this horse could just lob around, press a button and I have to say, it was a bit special.
“He could go chasing tomorrow, couldn’t he? We were in a lucky position two or three years ago, or more, when we had Altior and Buveur d’Air and we were in the same boat. It was which one went Champion Hurdle and which one went Arkle, luckily we got it right and Buveur d’Air went chasing and came back and won two Champion Hurdles and Altior went on and won Arkles and Champion Chases.
“I have to say any clown could probably train this horse. Some lesser horses are rather more complicated, this is just A-B-C – you just let him go through the motions and he doesn’t bother. His mind is so good and that helps enormously.
“He’s going round there on his own out in front and he’s taking nothing out of himself at all, he’s doing his own thing and his jumping is great. He’s never seen the front like that before but so what? It’s just all the same to him. He is completely unflappable.
“I think you’d probably have to say the Christmas Hurdle is the natural (target). He’s got to go to the Christmas Hurdle, then we just just slip through January and then the great clash is going to come with Honeysuckle (at Cheltenham).
“I think everyone is looking forward to it and I don’t suppose we will meet until March. It will be a big day.”
De Boinville described the race as “straightforward”, but felt there could be further improvement to come from Constitution Hill.
He said: “It was very straightforward, my instructions were just to keep it as simple as I can. Newcastle have done a great job with the ground, it’s lovely good to soft ground.
“I could hear them behind me and it was just a case of once I turned in, I just gradually quickened up and gradually went through the gears. He had it put to bed after a few jumps, he was very slick today and I think fitness-wise he will come on for the run which is interesting to think.
“He’s the most straightforward horse you could possibly ride, he just lobs away with his ears pricked. I was over the moon coming past the stands here, he was just having a look around, he’s a joy to ride.”
Connections had sidestepped a possible run at Ascot last week on account of quick ground and De Boinville believes the Newcastle contest was a better fit than waiting for Cheltenham next month.
He added: “It sets us up nicely for the programme ahead, if we waited to the International then that narrows your options. Fingers crossed he comes out of it OK and gets back safe and sound, but knowing him he’ll probably be asleep in his box already!”
Epatante’s owner JP McManus was not too disheartened in defeat.
He said: “It’s nice to be beaten by a champion – he looks pretty special doesn’t he?
“She ran a good race, there’s no complaints.”
Epatante’s jockey Aidan Coleman added: “She did everything right. My job was to follow him and try to have a crack at him up the straight.
“She followed him, she jumped, she felt great, to be fair.”
It may have come seven days and almost 300 miles further north than originally planned, but Constitution Hill left nobody in any doubt of his prodigious talent with a sensational display in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
While there was a fleeting moment rounding the home turn when it looked like we could have a race in our hands, it was soon all over in a matter of strides as Constitution Hill found a gear most horses could only dream of to leave his Champion Hurdle-winning stablemate Epatante trailing in his wake with 12 lengths separating them at the line.
Owner Michael Buckley has been fortunate to own several top-class horses over the years, including a Queen Mother Champion Chase winner in Finian’s Rainbow, but even he is struggling to come to terms with the remarkable talent his latest equine star possesses.
He said: “That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? He is something, it was amazing.
“It’s a shame to do it to a friend (Epatante)! We tried to keep them apart, but the weather has been so tricky and we just wanted to race when we could race, which was here.
“It sounds silly, but it’s actually surprisingly stressful. It seems so easy when you’ve got a horse like that. It’s easy to think it’s all easy-peasy and relaxing, but it’s only when it’s over that I realise how little sleep I’ve had, even when I think I’m asleep! It plays on your mind.”
Buckley, paying his first visit to Newcastle, revealed he had received a call from leading Flat trainer William Haggas on Friday – a man who has been in a similar position on several occasions this year with his horse of a lifetime Baaeed.
Buckley added: “I had a phone call yesterday from William. He said ‘Good luck tomorrow, I remember when we went to Ascot for the Queen Anne and everyone was saying he was 1-6 and a certainty, but it didn’t feel like a certainty to me!’.
“It doesn’t as you’re just waiting for something unpleasant to happen, but he (Constitution Hill) is a very special horse, there’s no doubt about it.
“It’s an absolute joy and a privilege to be able to find such a horse. I’ve never been to Newcastle racecourse before, so it’s a hell of a way to start.”
Buckley confirmed the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day as the likely next port of call for Constitution Hill.
When asked if he felt he mgight be the best horse he has ever owned, he said: “This may sound arrogant, it’s not meant to be, but if you have a horse that’s had four races in its life, how could any horse look to be better than he is?
“He’s got the Cheltenham track record and has won the Fighting Fifth like that. If there was a better one around then someone will tell me I’m wrong.
“At the moment he’s doing all the right things... and apparently very easily.”Black Friday offer! Join Racing TV for just £10 per month for the next 12 months! Click here for more details.
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