THE appropriately named Champion Day delivered on every expectation as Constitution Hill breezed to success in the Champion Hurdle to confirm himself a worthy successor to Honeysuckle’s crown, while the darling of Irish racing herself signed of her racing career with a trademark tenacious victory, recording a magnificent fourth wins to remain unbeaten at the Cheltenham Festival.
On the clock the performances were at polar opposites as the Mares’ Hurdle was particularly slowly run and while Constitution Hill (160+) produced the quickest time of the day, including sectionals, he was not required to match his performance in the Supreme Novices’ of last year to win decisively.
The traditional adrenaline rush associated with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was evident again as High Definition and Rare Edition set a scorching pace in the formative stages of the curtain raiser.
The start in the Champion Hurdle was not so speedy as Sam Twiston-Davies attempted to restrain I Like To Move It in the lead. A split screen comparison, removing the journey to the first hurdle in both races, shows the Supreme leaders have taken off at the first hurdle on the circuit 1.8secs (nine lengths) in advance of the Twiston Davies runner in the Champion Hurdle.
The gap reduced slightly by the time the leaders, which were Constitution Hill in the feature and Facile Vega in the opener, reached the second last hurdle with the novices still holding an advantage of 1.2secs.
However, either just before or after the obstacle Nico de Boinville asked the champion elect to seize the crown which has looked his to claim all season long.
Upon reaching the final hurdle the gap between the duo had evaporated as Constitution Hill let fly, Anne Power style, at the hurdle simultaneously to Facile Vega (158) making a mistake. The increase in tempo in the Champion Hurdle was confirmed post-race by Paul Townend conceding he was fighting an uphill struggle on State Man (151+) from the second last.
The final hurdle blunder left last year’s Champion Bumper winner vulnerable to the challenge of Marine Nationale (162+), although as the final winning margin of three and a half lengths shows Barry Connell’s gelding won through his own ability rather than the misfortune of the runner-up, justifying his trainer’s claim of him being the best horse in the race.
The novices were quicker overall, albeit only by 0.5secs. However, the closing sectionals from the fourth last hurdle depict the superiority described above as Nicky Henderson’s 10th Champion Hurdle winner covered the ground in 93.5secs, 1.1 secs quicker than Marine Nationale who stopped the clock at 94.6secs.
The final ingredient to confirming the preeminence of the Champion Hurdle winner, if indeed it is needed, is his covering the run from the last hurdle 0.14secs faster despite his jockey commencing his celebrations in advance of crossing the line.
Slow pace but Honeysuckle finishes it off with gusto
THE decision to route Honeysuckle (126+) to the Mares’ Hurdle is vindicated by the clock as despite winning her swansong she was no match for Constitution Hill in terms of sectional times, even before considering her winning time was much slower overall when adjusted for distance.
Jockey Johnny Burke set a pace to suit himself aboard Love Envoi (124+), almost stealing the race on the home turn. In fact, if not being pursued by a true and still relatively swift of foot champion he would have prevailed comfortably.
The slow early pace reflected in the final circuit time being slow, as Honeysuckle covered the final lap 1.7secs and 2.1secs slower than Marine Nationale and Constitution Hill respectively.
However, this allowed Kenny Alexander’s once-in-a-lifetime mare to finish with gusto as she overcame a final hurdle blunder to eclipse the Supreme winner from the fourth last as she posted 94.1secs for her closing sectional.
And moreover, in the process she covered the ground from the last in a quicker time than both fellow Grade 1 winners as she sprinted off to the paddocks.
Jazzy Matty (112+) completes the hurdle analysis and provides context to the other performances over the smaller obstacles as Gordon Elliott’s juvenile was 5.5secs slower than Honeysuckle over the final circuit, while his closing sectional was also 2.4secs the slowest on the day.