Constitution Hill Roars To Success At An Unforgettable Cheltenham Festival
The stars aligned perfectly on day one of the Cheltenham Festival as Constitution Hill bounded up the famous hill to land the prestigious Champion Hurdle.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner was priced at 1/3 with William Hill before the off and despite having to face the four-time Grade 1 winner State Man, Nicky Henderson’s six-race unbeaten gelding won by nine lengths.
???? Constitution Hill absolutely storms home to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle!
A special performance
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 14, 2023
On what was a memorable day in the history of Prestbury Park, the master trainer was full of emotion after the success.
“It is an extraordinary thing to happen but he is an extraordinary horse,” said Henderson. “He is a freak. I said to Nico let’s keep it as simple as you possibly can, and he did.
“I’ve watery eyes, I always have had and I always will have but that would bring a tear to most eyes when you see a horse quite like that as I think that is pretty unique.
“That is only the sixth race of his life and he is doing that now. We have had some wonderful days with Sprinter Sacre in particular. This horse is going to extraordinary levels at the moment and we are lucky to be the custodian of him but a lot of responsibility goes with it.”
The wide-margin victory was perfectly facilitated by jockey Nico de Boinville as his hands and heels ride after the final turn was all that was needed to collect his first Champion Hurdle title, adding to his successes in the Gold Cup and Champion Chase.
“He could do anything – I’m sure we will try him over a fence at some point. I guess we don’t want to pigeonhole him just as a hurdler; he could be anything.
“I think he’d be good over a fence. As racing fans, that’s what we want to see. I find in recent years horses have tended to get pigeon-holed too much, bar Faugheen. It could be interesting, and he’s still so young.
“It was all very smooth today. You saw him – as soon as he got to the front, he pricked his ears and said, ‘come on, let’s go, go and do the business.’. He’s so straightforward and these Blue Bresils, they seem to bring that element of attitude to the game. He takes it all in his stride – he’s so relaxed.”
The fairytale continued into the following race, the Mares’ Hurdle, as two-time Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle made it four Festival wins in a row under her regular rider, Rachael Blackmore.
In what was one of the best atmospheres ever experienced around the hallowed parade ring of Prestbury Park, the nine-year-old mare returned to a sea of cheers, blue scarves, and smiling faces.
Post-race, an ecstatic and emotional Henry de Bromhead said: “It’s just incredible. I am just so happy for the mare, for Rachael, and for all of us.
“You dream of the fairytale ending, but so often it doesn’t happen – this is what she deserves and she is just an unbelievable mare, and I’m just delighted.
“I think in fairness, we’ve obviously had a terrible year with Jack and everything, and just the support people have given us has been amazing. Today, most of the cheers are for Honey, because she has been so unbelievable, but everyone has shown us so much support.”
???? Honeysuckle soars home to win the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle!
It's a fairytale 4th!
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 14, 2023
Elsewhere on Champions Day, Irish claimer Michael O’Sullivan ended the day as the leading rider following his two winners on Jazzy Matty in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and, most importantly, Marine Nationale in the opening contest of the week, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
“I’ve been riding in races since I was very young so I’ve plenty of experience and I’m confident enough in my own ability without being over-confident and I’m riding good horses for good people and that makes it a lot easier,” chuckled O’Sullivan.
“I suppose it is hard to appreciate it and it is hard to be topped but I’m enjoying every minute of it. I was coming here with a good book of rides and to win the first one takes the pressure off.”
Cheltenham Festival’s most-winning trainer Willie Mullins walked away from day one with a double in two Graded contests thanks to El Fabiolo in the Arkle and Gaillard Du Mesnil in the National Hunt Chase, while the Ultima Handicap Chase was won for the second year in a row by Corach Rambler.
Immediately following the Arkle, joint-owner Isaac Souede shared that he believes this horse can go onto big heights in the future.
“Willie [Mullins] thinks he’s got great potential so in Willie we trust – he’s a very athletic horse!
“I think it is a step up from his Irish Arkle win because the competition, as hard as it was in Leopardstown, was harder here. I think he is a bit of an underrated jumper, but he likes to give you at least one scare!”
These comments were shared by Mullins who has some huge targets for the future.
“He looks like a horse who could be Champion Chase material, so that’s where we are going to aim him anyhow.
“He’s improving and he has less experience than the other horses in the race and he’s open to more improvement.”