Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill was an easy winner of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.
The five-year-old is unbeaten under rules and was a 1/4 chance going into the Grade 1, 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.
One bookmaker Constitution Hill from evens to 8/11 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, with another 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.
??? "He's a freak."@sevenbarrows rather neatly sums up Constitution Hill following his jaw-dropping triumph in the @Betfair Fighting Fifth @NewcastleRaces @LeopardstownRC over Christmas now an option... pic.twitter.com/jUD9ETMVKX— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 26, 2022
“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 ABC – 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 the 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 J.P. 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.”