Horse Power: Constitution Hill finds all that glitters isn't gold

DOMINIC KING – HORSE POWER: Constitution Hill finds all that glitters isn’t gold on path to greatness… with the iconic horse NOT set to race at the Gold Cup

  • Constitution Hill dominated the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
  • It has been decided that Constitution Hill will not race at the Gold Cup
  • The decision will disappoint some, as he had the chance to emulate Dawn Run 

The announcement, inevitably, was greeted in some places with groans. There will be no tilt at the Gold Cup for Constitution Hill, no romantic attempt to emulate Dawn Run.

This possibility has been whirring through the racing public’s mind since last spring, when Constitution Hill took off at the final flight like a jet plane and bounded away from his pursuers in the Champion Hurdle, looking like he could happily saunter around Prestbury Park once again.

Dawn Run had won the same race in 1984 before returning to win the big one in 1986. She was the mare of a lifetime, her feats commemorated with a statue in Cheltenham’s parade ring and a race named in her honour. Why couldn’t Constitution Hill follow in her hoof prints?

A reminder of this horse’s ability: State Man, who finished runner-up in March, subsequently won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, taking his career record to seven wins from 10 races; Vauban — back in fourth that day — is favourite for the Melbourne Cup after a swaggering Royal Ascot success.

Yet neither of these brilliant animals would have beaten Constitution Hill had they been put in the back of their horsebox and driven through the final few furlongs: that’s how good Nicky Henderson’s star is. And when they are this good, it is only natural you want to see more.

Constitution Hill bounded away to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival

But it has been confirmed Constitution Hill will not compete at the Gold Cup

Constitution Hill will not try to emulate Dawn Run, who now has a bronze statue at Cheltenham

Remember how it was with Frankel? When there were all those stories coming from Newmarket about how Sir Henry Cecil’s masterpiece was moving quicker than a train on a track that ran parallel with the gallops, everyone had an idea on how he should be campaigned.

Why not run him in the Epsom Derby? What about a crack at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe? Or, even still, revert to sprinting and go for the July Cup? Frankel had been so dominant in races over a mile, the enthusiasm to see if he could do something out of the ordinary was infectious.

But Cecil, genius as he was, knew what buttons to push — and when to push them. There was nothing to be gained by asking this stunning colt to attempt the impossible. On the other of side of that, there was potentially everything to lose.

‘There was so much pressure to run him in the Derby,’ Cecil’s wife, Lady Jane, once told this reporter. ‘Can you imagine how much Henry would have loved to? If he’d have won the Derby it would have been huge but he felt it wasn’t the right thing to do for the horse. And he believed it wasn’t the right thing to do for the horse. 

‘Everything Henry did was through instinct and feel and experience. He’d had 30-odd years when Frankel came along. He said you’re always learning, you never know it all. But with his experience, it was all building to Frankel.’

Cecil took Frankel on a blemish free, 14-race odyssey that culminated with a spine-tingling win in the 2012 QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot. Not having an Arc or a Derby on his c.v. doesn’t make a difference to how we perceive him: the greatest flat horse of all time.

So this brings us back to Constitution Hill, who is carrying a similar aura to Frankel. This is the kind of animal who will make non-racing aficionados watch: he’s box office, a back-page headline-grabber on four legs. He may yet be seen as the greatest hurdler of all time.

And nobody knows him better than Henderson, a trainer as gifted as Cecil. He’s spent the summer debating with jockey Nico de Boinville and owner Michael Buckley about the merits of going for Gold — Buckley, especially, was game for following the path marked ‘adventure’.

But, eventually, it was deemed that to ask Constitution Hill to go into the unknown over three-and-a-quarter miles would be unfair and unwise. All horses are precious but this one is assuming the mantle of being public property and that comes with an added layer of pressure.

Constitution Hill has a similar aura to Frankel (above) who won 14 straight races

Nobody knows Constitution Hill better than trainer Nicky Henderson (above), who is saving him for courses that suit his horse best

Henderson, then, is right to stick to what he knows best — and what most suits his horse. So it will be Newcastle on December 2, Kempton Park on Boxing Day before Cheltenham then a season finale at either Aintree or the Punchestown Festival.

Predictable? Not a bit. Those who might feel this lacks imagination are failing to look at the bigger picture. The fact that we are already discussing Constitution Hill’s designs on greatness, after just seven races, highlights his talent.

To achieve that tag, he needs to do what proved beyond Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq and win four straight Champion Hurdles. It sounds easy but it will take all of Henderson’s skill and feel and judgment to manage Constitution Hill along the way.

So while the Gold Cup mission has been shelved, the opportunity to create history remains. For that, National Hunt racing — and the sport in general — should be thrilled that his path on the road to greatness is being guided by the steadiest of hands.

Mullins an amateur in name only

Listowel was soggy and boggy on Monday, an attritional afternoon to remind you winter is around the corner. The card was competitive, if lacking stars, but in the final race there was a story at which you could marvel.

Patrick Mullins — or Mr P W Mullins, as you will have seen him on a racecard — rode the 800th winner of his career, delivering Luckinthecity with impeccable timing. What makes this number all the more exceptional is the fact this 33-year-old has spent his career as an amateur.

His aim is to reach 1000 winners in the future and that is no pipedream, given the quality of horses his father, Willie, trains. Whether he reaches it or not, one thing can be said with certainty: there will never be another amateur who gets anywhere near his total. He’s an amateur in name only.

Imperious Continuous

Aidan O’Brien was apologetic for ruining what many hoped would have been a Royal winner of the St Leger last weekend.

The trainer was also quick to deflect the attention at Doncaster, thanking the staff who look after Continuous and playing down his role.

What seems to have gone unnoticed is just how brilliant this colt is. To stand on the running rails in the final furlong and witness Continuous at top speed left you in no doubt he’ll win more top prizes.

If he goes to Longchamp for the Arc, only a fool would bet against him.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien (above) has an imperious colt in Continuous who will win more top prizes

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