DOMINIC KING – HORSE POWER: Constitution Hill finds all that glitters isn’t gold on path to greatness
The announcement, inevitably, was met with groans in places. There will be no Gold Cup victory for Constitution Hill, nor any romantic attempt to emulate Dawn Run.
This possibility has been on the minds of the racing public since last spring, when Constitution Hill took off on the final flight like a jet plane and pulled away from his pursuers in the Champion Hurdle, as if he could again happily strolling around Prestbury Park.
Dawn Run had won the same race in 1984 before returning to win the big one in 1986. She was the mare of her life, her achievements commemorated with a statue in the Cheltenham ring and a race named in her honour. Why couldn’t Constitution Hill follow his hoof prints?
A reminder of this horse’s abilities: State Man, who finished second in March, went on to win the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, taking his career record to seven wins from 10 races; Vauban – back in fourth that day – is favorite for the Melbourne Cup after a resounding success at Royal Ascot.
Yet none of these brilliant animals would have beaten Constitution Hill if they had been put in the back of their van and driven through the final miles: that’s how good Nicky Henderson’s star is. And when they’re this good, it’s only natural that you want to see more.
Constitution Hill runs away to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
But it has been confirmed that Constitution Hill will not take part in the Gold Cup.
Constitution Hill won’t try to emulate Dawn Run, who now has a bronze statue in Cheltenham
Do you remember what happened with Frankel? When there were all these stories coming out of Newmarket about how Sir Henry Cecil’s masterpiece moved faster than a train on a galloping parallel track, everyone had an idea about how it had to campaign.
Why not enter him in the Epsom Derby? How about a chance at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe? Or, return to sprinting and aim for the July Cup? Frankel had been so dominant in races over a mile that the excitement of seeing if he could do something out of the ordinary was contagious.
But Cecil, as great as he was, knew which buttons to press – and when to press them. There was nothing to be gained by asking this superb colt to attempt the impossible. On the other hand, there was potentially everything to lose.
“There was so much pressure for him to compete in the Derby,” Cecil’s wife, Lady Jane, once told this reporter. “Can you imagine how much Henry would have loved it? If he had won the Derby it would have been huge, but he didn’t think it was the right thing to do for the horse. And he didn’t think it was the right thing to do for the horse.
“Everything Henry did was due to instinct, feeling and experience. He was around 30 when Frankel arrived. He said you’re always learning, you never know everything. But with his experience, it all came together for Frankel.
Cecil took Frankel on a flawless 14-race odyssey that culminated with a thrilling victory in the 2012 QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot. Not having an Arc or a Derby on his CV does not change the way we perceive him: the greatest flat horse of all time.
So that brings us back to Constitution Hill, which carries a similar aura to Frankel’s. It’s the kind of animal that will have non-racist aficionados watching: it’s at the box office, a back-page headline on four legs. He can still be considered the greatest hurdler of all time.
And no one knows him better than Henderson, a coach as gifted as Cecil. He spent the summer debating with jockey Nico de Boinville and owner Michael Buckley about the merits of going for gold – Buckley, in particular, was prepared to follow the path marked ‘adventure’.
But, ultimately, it was deemed unfair and unwise to ask Constitution Hill to travel more than three and a quarter miles into the unknown. All horses are valuable, but this one takes on the role of public ownership, which comes with an added layer of pressure.
Constitution Hill has a similar aura to Frankel (above) who won 14 consecutive races
No one knows Constitution Hill better than trainer Nicky Henderson (above), who books him for courses that suit his horse best.
So Henderson is right to stick to what he knows best – and what suits his horse best. So it will be Newcastle on December 2, Kempton Park on Boxing Day before Cheltenham then a season finale at Aintree or the Punchestown Festival.
Predictable? No way. Those who might think this is unimaginative are failing to see the big picture. The fact that we’re already discussing Constitution Hill’s plans for greatness, after just seven races, highlights his talent.
To achieve that title he must do what has been proven beyond Sir Ken, The Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq and win four Champion Hurdles in a row. It sounds easy, but it will take all of Henderson’s skill, acumen and judgment to manage Constitution Hill through the process.
So even though the Gold Cup mission has been abandoned, the opportunity to create history remains. For that, National Hunt Racing – and the sport in general – should be pleased that its path on the path to greatness is guided by the steadiest of hands.
Mullins is an amateur in name only
Listowel was soggy and boggy on Monday, an afternoon of wear and tear to remind you that winter is fast approaching. The card was competitive, even if lacking in stars, but in the final race there was a story to marvel at.
Patrick Mullins – or Mr PW Mullins, as you will have seen him on a race card – rode the 800th winner of his career, delivering Luckinthecity with impeccable timing. What makes this figure all the more exceptional is that this 33-year-old spent his career as an amateur.
His goal is to reach 1,000 winners in the future and that’s not a pipe dream, 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 comes close to his total. He’s an amateur in name only.
Aidan O’Brien has apologized for spoiling what many hoped would be a royal St Leger winner last weekend.
The manager was quick to deflect attention away from Doncaster, thanking the staff looking after Continu and downplaying his role.
What seems to have gone unnoticed is how brilliant this colt is. Standing on the running rails in the final turn and witnessing Continuous at full speed leaves you in no doubt that he will win other big prizes.
If he goes to Longchamp for the Arc, only a fool would bet against him.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien (above) has an imperious Continuous colt who will win other big prizes