Constitution Hill may be best hurdler and could win Gold Cup and Grand National

NEVER mind the Champion Hurdle or the Gold Cup . . .  you wouldn’t put it past Constitution Hill to win  them both in the same week.

Okay, maybe that is stretching the point a little too far.


Constitution Hill has proven it might be the best ever hurdlerCredit: PA

Landing the Festival’s big two with one horse in the space of four days is obviously beyond even this equine superstar.

But as for jump racing’s Blue Riband in 12 months’ time?

Well before the eye-rolling and accusations of getting ahead of ourselves begin, consider this for a second.

It has taken little more than a year for the iron Constitution to go from promising novice to talk of him being the greatest hurdler of all time.

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So, if he does show the same aptitude for the larger obstacles as he has for the smaller ones, there’s absolutely no reason to think he won’t be adding the Gold Cup to his Champion Hurdle sooner rather than later.

It’s probably  the only way he is going to face any serious opposition for the foreseeable future.

Hurdling-wise there simply isn’t anything in the same league.

Forget the winning distance of three lengths in yesterday’s Aintree Hurdle, as he effortlessly took his record to seven from seven. If Nico de Boinville had wanted it to be 23, he could have.

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As it is, he set off in front, produced a masterclass in low, smooth, sleek jumping and came home without breaking sweat.

It was a schooling session for a Grade 1 pot. Just as the Champion Hurdle was last month. Just as every visit to the racecourse has been. A combined winning total of 89 lengths, and the most oft-viewed equine backside in the sport . . . from all those rival jockeys who need binoculars to see him by the end of the race.

Nicky Henderson had talked beforehand of the jitters. Of how it might have been exciting for the public to see King Con in the flesh, but it just gave him the heebie-jeebies.

Well this time even notoriously nervous Nicky could afford to relax and enjoy it.


Constitution Hill could win the Gold Cup and Grand National


Constitution Hill could win the Gold Cup and Grand NationalCredit: PA

From flagfall to finishing line, there wasn’t a thing to bring sweat to the palms.

He may have been racing over four furlongs more than he had before, but it made not a jot of difference.

It could have been ten miles more and he’d probably have still come home in a canter, while the rest were pumping away for the minor honours.

Joking apart, that’s what it actually looked like at one stage. As they turned for home, with a couple to jump, Nico still hadn’t moved a muscle.

In his slipstream, the pilots of Zanahiyr, Sharjah, Epatante, all of them, were rowing away so manically it was like watching the University boat race on fast forward.

Henderson said: “He was just doodling along in his own time in second gear. His versatility is incredible and you can do anything with him.”

Constitution Hill has stood out in the races this year


Constitution Hill has stood out in the races this yearCredit: PA

It was effortless, elegant . . . and so bloody easy. The only mistake came when they draped the winners’ rug over his glistening hind quarters — it read “William Hill Handicap Steeplechase!”

To be fair, it was probably no more than a glimpse into the future, whenever he does step up to the larger obstacles. Although it won’t be handicaps!

When Henderson and owner Michael Buckley do decide the time has come, he will no doubt be mopping up all before him in that particular field as well.

Both men were predictably peppered with questions as to when that would be. And the fact they are even talking of schooling him over fences, suggests the day isn’t too far away.

For now, though, Buckley was content to play along with the joke. Yesterday was simply about witnessing yet another masterclass. When the question of fences was put to him, he quipped: “Well I thought we might just pay a penalty for late entry and run in the National on Saturday! How would that be for you?

“No, I don’t know yet, I just want to enjoy this. But I will say this for the trainer — he’s just had two horses in a row who have each won their sixth grade one. That’s enough for one day.”

It certainly was.

Shishkin has also shone bright this season at the Festival


Shishkin has also shone bright this season at the FestivalCredit: PA

As if Constitution Hill alone wasn’t enough, for Henderson it was the icing on a spectacular cake, thanks to the heroics of Shishkin 35 minutes earlier.

While the Hill was taking his latest steps to greatness, for Shishkin it was all about redemption . . . and potentially the opening of another door at the top.

Four weeks ago his jumping was dodgy, to say the least, as he came home second to Envoi Allen in the Ryanair.

Yesterday, in his first attempt over three miles, he proved that whatever route Henderson takes with the Hill, there may be another serious Gold Cup challenger in the same yard.

When Ahoy Senor kicked clear two out, Brian Hughes looked to have the Aintree Bowl in his back pocket. Shishkin, and de Boinville, thought otherwise.

Henderson’s nine-year-old, whose blow-out in the Champion Chase 12 months earlier was one of the talking points of the Festival, simply flew up the run-in to win going away. So much for those who doubted his staying power. And so much, too, joked Henderson about the time it has taken for the handler to discover the fact.

He laughed: “Okay, so the trainer has got it wrong for the past two years but we know that!

“He does finish very well and that’s his thing.

“He is tough and he stayed. He is still quite lazy throughout his races to be honest with you but it was a good gallop and a good test.

“We thought we were right in going over two-and-a-half at Cheltenham but he wouldn’t have won over two, three or five miles there.

“We had to show up and he had to show up today and he has proved he stays.

“He is brave, he fights and his jumping was beautiful where at Cheltenham it was rubbish. It has been a good day.”

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Clearly not only a master trainer, but also king of the understatement.

Now, about that 16-1 on Constitution Hill winning next year’s Gold Cup .