Constitution Hill lived up to his tall reputation with a brilliant performance to land the odds in the Unibet Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
Sent off the 2-5 favourite for the two-mile Grade One contest after making a striking winning debut over the same course and distance five weeks ago, the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old put in a top-class display.
However, Henderson was not at the track to see his sixth winner of the race as he is in self-isolation at home after testing positive for Covid-19.
Conditions may have been much heavier than on his debut, but Constitution Hill coped admirably with the heavy ground under a confident ride by Nico de Boinville.
Jetoile made the running until the second-last flight, where Constitution Hill took over and was soon in command. Clear at the last, the Michael Buckley-owned winner went on to score by 12 lengths from the game Jetoile.
Constitution Hill was cut to 9-4 from 7-2 with Betfair and 2-1 from 7-2 with Coral for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – where he looks set to clash with equally-exciting stablemate Jonbon.
De Boinville said: “This is some horse, I couldn’t believe when I looked round how far clear I was. That was bottomless ground, but he’s made light work of it. He has just gone through it so easily and it was just a case of get him to the line.
“I was very relaxed throughout the race – he is very straightforward and he is asleep most of the time. He is simply a relaxed individual.
“He’s such a likeable horse, he’s so easy, and I believe there’s more to come. He’s very, very straightforward.
“We knew he was good from what he was doing at home, but it’s always nice to see it translate to the track and now he’s backed it (debut) up.
“It was a great performance, he’s push button – he’s a jockey’s dream.
“He was fantastic there today. I was blown away by that – that was special.”
On a showdown with Jonbon, De Boinville said: “I’m sure they’ll meet at Cheltenham, all being well, and that will be a great match up. They’re very different horses, with very different dispositions, but it’s exciting and it’s exciting for the yard.
“He had an education through the race and I’m not worried he hasn’t been tested. He is very exciting and it is exciting to have some very good horses in the yard.”
For Henderson it was relief all round, as he watched on from his Seven Barrows base in Lambourn.
“Watching it from home is not like being there. It is worse. I would rather drive to Newcastle and watch it live than sat here. Sat here on my own, talking to myself, it is harder at home than watching it on a racecourse,” he said.
“I have got covid, but that is the best medicine you can get in the world. That would kill anything.”
He went on: “He was staggering. We had no idea about the ground – it was proper Sandown heavy ground. When he won there before it was good to soft, but pretty soft all the same.
“I just had a long chat with Barry Geraghty, who was the person who told me to buy him and he is a good friend of Michael’s as well and it is thanks to Barry really. You just have to say that was a staggering performance in any ground.
“I talked to Barry and Nico and we are pretty sure he is a two-miler. You are not going to run him on fast ground – and at Cheltenham you are not going to get fast ground. It never does these days.
“We are in a very lucky situation that we have him and Jonbon at the moment.
“In any year, you’d be lucky enough to have one of them. They are very, very, very high class.”
Comparing the characteristics of his emerging superstars, Henderson said: “Jonbon is a seriously good horse – a seriously good horse – no mistaking that one whatsoever. This one must be as good as any, as well.
“Constitution Hill is about the most laid-back horse I have ever come across. He is asleep. He is asleep in his box, he is asleep in his walk, he’ll sleep in a trot and asleep in a canter. Then you lob along and then you just pull it out and you push a button and we go.
“Jonbon is the opposite. He is a bit hyper. We took him to Newbury for a racecourse canter. In the paddock he is sweating and on his toes and that’s him.
“They are absolutely completely and utterly different characters. Certainly Cheltenham isn’t going to faze Constitution Hill. Cheltenham won’t faze Jonbon, because we will have protected him from that. We have done with earplugs and things like that, and it is the first race, which always helps.”
He went on: “At the moment, they both look like two-milers and if we had any strength this year, it would be in the novice hurdlers. And there are a few more, to be fair. I Am Maximus wasn’t bad the other day, although he got beat – and he is going to be a good horse. There is Balco Coastal and Broomfield Burg and all sorts of others lurking around in there.
“Jonbon we are toying with either the Rossington Main at Haydock or the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown – I’d like to get another run into Jonbon.
“Whether we get another run into Constitution Hill – I just said to Nico, there are only two questions: ‘Does he need any more than two miles?’ ‘No’.
‘Does he need to run again’ ‘Not necessarily’.
“They were competitive races – he hasn’t had big fields. Jonbon will run again. You could go as far as the Dovecote, but those are the only three options you can come up with.
“Does this horse need to do it again? He’s only had one point-to-point, which he actually got beat in, and two hurdle races which have turned out to be a bit of a doddle – but that was a Grade One. You can’t ask him to do any more.
“The depth wasn’t great, but I can’t stick him the Betfair Hurdle because he hasn’t had three runs. If you run him in the Rossington Main, the Contenders or the Dovecote, you are only going to get four or five runners, whatever happens. You are not going to get a full field.
“Do you ever not see Willie Mullins’ horses not be in the first three all the way round in a beginners’ hurdle, novice hurdle, maiden hurdle, any other hurdle? They just go round in front, don’t they?
“I really promise you, you run Jonbon and say ‘this is the real deal’ and you run that one today and you have to say ‘that was the real deal’.
“If you have got two, you are just very, very, very lucky. And don’t forget, there is a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and Cheltenham.
“To get from now in January, February to March – you have eight and a half weeks to go, everybody who trains racehorses knows that nine weeks is a very long time in a horse’s career and life and a million things can go wrong. So you probably need two. They have got to get there and we are very lucky. We have a sweat, because my job is to get them both there.
“Is there a possibility they split up? I don’t know. It is hard to tell.
“If you walked into Seven Barrows tomorrow morning, I would be surprised if you didn’t get a 50-50. There are 70 odd people and they are split.
“They are not just hurdlers – these are chasers for the future, their life is in front of them. The Supreme is not what they were bought for, they were both bought as steeplechasers.”