IT may have been a week later than eagerly anticipated, but it was well worth the wait as Constitution Hill made a scintillating return to the track in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
In readily dismissing his stable companion and former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante (153) (who did make an significant late error three out), last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner clocked a time figure fast enough to have finished second to Honeysuckle in her quickest Champion Hurdle in 2020, and with any amount in hand here.
And, as it is well documented, the superstar of Seven Barrows was also significantly quicker over the same distance on the opening day of last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
So, even though there are still four months until the 2023 Champion Hurdle, the odds-on stance adopted by bookmakers after this performance is fully justified.
Adopting a change of tactics, Nico de Boinville and Constitution Hill (166+) strode into an early lead and, courtesy of his pinpoint and precise hurdling, the combination was always in control of the race even before the ‘wow’ moment which saw him seal the race. he substance to the performance is provided by the runner-up running to the same time figure as when dead-heating with Not So Sleepy (151) last year.
Although there is less to be drawn from a comparison with maiden hurdle winner War Soldier (124), it is worth noting that, in a comparison of both races, Sandy Thomson’s gelding trailed the Champion Hurdle favourite by 8.2secs overall, 5.7secs on the circuit and, even with de Boinville stood up in his irons in the straight, 2.0secs (10 lengths) from the third last hurdle. Nicky Henderson has confirmed the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton as the next target as connections of the highly talented son of Blue Bresil are adamant any clash with Honeysuckle will be at Cheltenham in March.
Later on the card, another Ascot absentee L’Homme Presse (154+) made a winning start to his season at Gosforth Park as he gave weight and a narrow beating to Into Overdrive (154) and Happygolucky (151+).
Although Charlie Deutsch was keen not to ask more than required on a first outing in eight months, his pursuers presented a severe test with the time figure reflecting the protracted duel fought out in the straight.
The early pace was stronger than the two-and-a-half-mile chase won by Baron De Midleton (124+) in the formative stages, which in part the winner helped force.
However, the races were closer together through the final circuit as Brian Ellison’s chaser came within 0.6secs of covering the ground in the same time as the Rehearsal Chase winner as he finished off his race quicker.
The nine-year-old stopped the clock at 46.9secs from the fourth last fence, compared to the 48.9secs taken by L’Homme Presse.
Venetia Williams has yet to commit to the next target for her seven-year-old with the King George only remaining a possible if the Kempton ground is testing. As for the runner-up, third and fourth-home Windsor Avenue (149), I could see one or all of them holding the key to the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby, the same day as the Kempton Grade 1.