FForty-eight hours after a seemingly flawless performance such as Constitution Hill’s 12-length success at Newcastle on Saturday, the adrenaline has worn off and it is generally possible to make a more objective assessment of form. Perhaps the second favorite went too out of form, went too fast or made a mistake at a key stage. Perhaps the winner was the only one to act on the field.
This time, it’s nothing. Not even the faintest hint of a hole to struggle with. Constitution Hill traveled extremely well from the first step, settled easily into his unfamiliar role as a pioneer and flew over any obstacle without a second thought. And when Nico de Boinville called for just a little of what his partner had left in the tank, Constitution Hill immediately turned the corner and it was electrifying. He barely got past second gear but still ran the two miles 17 seconds faster than the winner of the first juvenile hurdle.
Jumping has a generational talent on its hands, to say the least, and arguably the best hurdler of all time. Turn-of-the-century Istabraq and 1970s golden-era Night Nurse, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon are among the big names Constitution Hill has to overcome, while Sir Ken and Hatton’s Grace, both three-time winners . just after World War II, they deserve to be part of the conversation as well.
With just four rounds in the book, though, Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old is already just 5lb behind Night Nurse, Timeform’s highest-rated steeplechase in the half-century the firm has rated jumpers. And the best news for the sport is that it has a contemporary rival in Honeysuckle who could be good enough to give it a serious test.
There is, of course, plenty that could go wrong between now and March 14, but a showdown with the taste of Arkle versus Mill House in the 1960s in next year’s Champion Hurdle could only be three and one. – half a month away.
You have to push 70 to remember the 1964 Gold Cup, which helped establish Arkle’s status as the best steeplechase in National Hunt history, but like Constitution Hill, Arkle won a novice event at Festival a year early to set up their clash with defending champions Mill House in the Gold Cup.
Unlike the most recent and highly anticipated head-to-head between Kauto Star and Denman in the 2009 Gold Cup, meanwhile, it was also a meeting of rivals from both sides of the Irish Sea. The prospect of having something similar to sell to the wider sporting public next year will make racing’s various PR teams – at Great British Racing, Jockey Club Racecourses and ITV – pay off a bit.
If the next few months go to plan and Honeysuckle does indeed go on a record 18-race unbeaten streak in the Champion Hurdle against what is likely to be Constitution Hill’s perfect five-from-five, my personal view is that even a 7 lb. mare. allowance won’t save Honeysuckle from a beating that confirms Constitution Hill as the best hurdler of any generation. If this possibility doesn’t keep you warm in the dead of winter, nothing will.