It may have come seven days and almost 300 miles further north than originally planned, but Constitution Hill left nobody in any doubt of his prodigious talent with a sensational display in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The five-year-old confirmed himself something out of the ordinary last season, with 14 and 12-length triumphs at Sandown only bettered by a scarcely believable 22-length demolition job in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Trainer Nicky Henderson came in for plenty of criticism last weekend after Constitution Hill was withdrawn from his planned comeback run in the Coral Hurdle due to unsuitable ground, but Ascot’s loss was Newcastle’s gain and those in attendance at Gosforth Park were in for a real treat.
Not only did the master of Seven Barrows field the highest-rated hurdler in training, but he also allowed star mare Epatante to bid for a Fighting Fifth hat-trick after scoring in 2020 and dead-heating with the reopposing Not So Sleepy 12 months ago.
The Henderson pair dominated the race from the start, with 1-4 favourite Constitution Hill setting out to make all under Nico de Boinville, while Epatante and Aidan Coleman did their level best to keep tabs on him.
But while there was a fleeting moment rounding the home turn when it looked like it could be a race, it was soon all over in a matter of strides as Constitution Hill found a gear most horses could only dream of to leave his Champion Hurdle-winning stablemate trailing in his wake, with 12 lengths separating them at the line.
Owner Michael Buckley has been fortunate to own several top-class horses over the years, including a Queen Mother Champion Chase winner in Finian’s Rainbow, but even he is struggling to come to terms with the remarkable talent his latest equine star possesses.
He said: “That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? He is something, it was amazing.
“It’s a shame to do it to a friend (Epatante)! We tried to keep them apart, but the weather has been so tricky and we just wanted to race when we could race, which was here.
“It sounds silly, but it’s actually surprisingly stressful. It seems so easy when you’ve got a horse like that. It’s easy to think it’s all easy-peasy and relaxing, but it’s only when it’s over that I realise how little sleep I’ve had, even when I think I’m asleep! It plays on your mind.”
Buckley, paying his first visit to Newcastle, revealed he received a call from leading Flat trainer William Haggas on Friday - a man who has been in a similar position on several occasions this year with his horse of a lifetime Baaeed.
Buckley added: “I had a phone call yesterday from William.
“He said ‘good luck tomorrow, I remember when we went to Ascot for the Queen Anne and everyone was saying he was 1-6 and a certainty, but it didn’t feel like a certainty to me!’.
“It doesn’t as you’re just waiting for something unpleasant to happen, but he (Constitution Hill) is a very special horse, there’s no doubt about it.
“It’s an absolute joy and a privilege to be able to find such a horse. I’ve never been to Newcastle racecourse before, so it’s a hell of a way to start.”
Buckley confirmed the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton onSt Stephen’s Day as the likely next port of call for Constitution Hill.
When asked if he felt he was the best horse he has ever owned, he said: “This may sound arrogant, it’s not meant to be, but if you have a horse that’s had four races in its life, how could any horse look to be better than he is?
“He’s got the Cheltenham track record and has won the Fighting Fifth like that. If there was a better one around then someone will tell me I’m wrong.
“At the moment he’s doing all the right things and apparently very easily.”
It is difficult to argue with Buckley’s assessment. It seems the sky really could be the limit.