RacingOdds and Sods

If you can’t be brave with a horse like Constitution Hill, when can you be?

Trainer Nicky Henderson and owner Michael Buckley face biggest question in the sport about Champion Hurdle winner

It’s a problematic F word in some senses but “freak” is appropriate when it comes to the most exciting racehorse in National Hunt racing, simply because there’s never really been anything like Constitution Hill before.

He has run just half a dozen times in his life and already ranks among the top-rated hurdlers ever. He effectively turned last week’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham into an exhibition. On handicap figures it mightn’t even have been his best career performance to date.

Some reckon that was a 22-length rout in the Supreme at last year’s festival. Others argue beating his stable companion, and former champion hurdle winner Epatante by 12-lengths in a canter at Newcastle last November is tops.

If that’s a matter of opinion what isn’t up for debate is that nothing yet has got within a donkey’s screech of getting Constitution Hill off the bridle. He has put up a series of astonishingly precocious performances and done it with ease.


Possessed of massive natural ability, allied to a temperament perfectly adjusted to exploiting that talent to the max, there doesn’t appear to be a ceiling to what this still callow six-year-old might yet achieve.

Racing’s vagaries, particularly over jumps, means disaster is rarely never more than a bad step away.

If it’s a hard lesson quickly learned, then the sport’s romantic streak means even the most experienced observers can still park it to the side when pondering exceptional young prospects with the racing world seemingly at their feet.

But by any standards Constitution Hill is a singular talent. None of jump racing’s pantheon accomplished so much so quickly. Arkle was ordinary over hurdles; Kauto Star was beaten six times in his first 10 starts; Desert Orchid twice wasn’t sighted in a Champion Hurdle.

Time may yet make comparisons to such proven greats seem stupidly premature. But right now, there’s no limit to what Constitution Hill might be capable of, which is why the biggest question in the sport is whether he sticks to hurdling next season or is sent over fences instead.

The percentage call is to keep him over flights. That’s the shrewd move. It’s become more and more of a credo that the smart way to go is opting for the easiest option, basically a variant on the old theme of keeping yourself in the best company and your horse in the worst.

If he stays healthy and in one piece, the Champion Hurdle looks like Constitution Hill’s for as long as he wants it. He’s already 4-6 to win it again in 2024. Cast a cold clinical professional eye on things and it’s hardly a dilemma at all. The known factor is the painless way to go.

It is to be hoped, however, that when that call is eventually made logic is ignored and Constitution Hill is sent over fences next season. It will be a step into the unknown and would factor in quite a lot of risk. But the potential benefit to racing generally would be massive.

Of course, it’s easy to be brave with someone else’s horse. There is also the reality that hindsight merchants will always be wise no matter what.

All this is being weighed up by trainer Nicky Henderson and owner Michael Buckley even before their young paragon has his final start of this season at Aintree in a few weeks’ time.

But let’s hope sporting ambition gets the better of the argument. We already know Constitution Hill is a great hurdler. Winning another two or three at his ease might make statistical sense but will make for a somewhat hollow achievement if he isn’t really challenged.

What racing could hang its hat on for a couple of years to come, however, would be the prospect of him tackling the greatest challenge of the lot by ultimately trying to emulate the legendary Dawn Run and adding the Cheltenham Gold Cup to his Champion Hurdle crown.

The scale of the task could hardly be overstated. Hurdling and steeplechasing are the same discipline in a similar way to rugby union and rugby league, in that they’re not really the same thing at all.

The technique required to flick over a flight of hurdles as fast as possible will land any horse on the deck if applied over fences. Constitution Hill will essentially be going back to school if he’s sent novice chasing. There is also an automatic stamina question about a horse with so much speed.

Some will point, too, to the increased risk involved in racing over fences. But that’s a dubious stance to take since steeplechasing is either a valid and fair challenge for a racehorse or it isn’t, no matter what its level of ability or popular interest.

Ultimately, making the switch to fences would be the sort of sporting ambition that thumbs its nose at prudence and obeys the competitive instinct to find out just how good this remarkable young thoroughbred is.

It would be the brave move. But Messrs Buckley and Henderson might consider that if it isn’t possible to be brave with a horse like this, when is it?

Something for the Weekend

Aidan O’Brien flies the flag in Meydan on Saturday with a trio of runners and 12-1 odds about Broome (12.40) in the Dubai Gold Cup look interesting. It will be just his second start at two miles but a warm-up effort in Doha suggests the veteran seven-year-old needs a distance of ground now.

JJ Slevin goes to Kelso on Saturday to ride Jane Du Berlais (3.0) for Tyrone-born trainer Ryan Potter in a valuable mares’ race. She renews rivalry with Bonttay who she beat at Lingfield in December and will relish a stamina test.