'We'd have concerns if it dried too much' - Nicky Henderson on Constitution Hill
Saturday: 2.40 Ascot
Coral Hurdle (Registered As The Ascot Hurdle) (Grade 2) | 2m3½f | 4yo+ | ITV/Sky
Racing fans are often guilty of hyperbole when a talented and unbeaten youngster emerges from obscurity but in Constitution Hill we already have a genuine superstar who brings substance and style in equal measure. Believe the hype.
What is staggering about this relatively new-on-the-scene five-year-old is his performance in novice company at Cheltenham can be compared favourably with the three Champion Hurdle winners who feature on the recent Coral Hurdle roll of honour.
Annie Power, Faugheen and Rock On Ruby each supported their Champion tour de forces with victory in this Ascot Grade 2 and it is possible Constitution Hill can blow the legendary trio out of the water as he gains experience.
Constitution Hill ran to an RPR of 172 when a sensational 22-length winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and that figure exceeds Rock On Ruby's career-best effort (171).
He still falls short of Annie Power (170) plus her 7lb mares' allowance and Faugheen (177), but these are the early steps on the road to stardom. Faugheen produced his peak on his 12th hurdles start and Annie Power on her 14th. The Supreme was just Constitution Hill's third.
There is reason to believe Constitution Hill is capable of producing a 180+ performance, although that might have to wait for another day.
A ridiculously strong pace at Cheltenham contributed towards the monster RPR and he was trained to peak for the big day in March. Expect subsequent improvement for the reappearance.
This distance is an unknown for Constitution Hill and the hope is that Goshen and For Pleasure tussle for the lead to create a relentless gallop that scrutinises his unproven stamina. Regardless, defeat for the favourite is almost unthinkable whichever way the race plays out.
The early market favours Brewin'upastorm over Goshen in the race for second and both would rate as respectable winners of a typical running. The problem is the freak who tops the betting and the fact both of these unpredictable sorts dented their reputations recently.
Mistakes and inconsistency have crept into the game of Brewin'upastorm over the past year and he clumsily unseated Sean Bowen at the first on his seasonal return at Aintree.
That taught us nothing, but we at least learned that Goshen and fences were a marriage destined for divorce at Ascot last month.
Goshen lacked his usual enthusiasm on his chasing debut in a novice handicap and reverting to hurdles is a wise move. Soft ground on a right-handed track are in theory Goshen's optimum conditions, but he arrives as an even riskier proposition than usual.
For Pleasure and Uhtred are each tasked with a mountain to climb on these terms, but their presence at least grants punters the option to play each-way in the race if they are that way inclined.
Race analysis by Robbie Wilders
'What Constitution Hill did last year was verging on the ridiculous'
Constitution Hill may only have run three times in his career, but he's rapidly become the superstar everyone wants to talk about.
The unbeaten Michael Buckley-owned hurdler has amassed a huge public following since his 22-length demolition of much-vaunted stablemate Jonbon in Cheltenham's Grade 1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March.
Jonbon's exemplary winning debut over fences at Warwick on Wednesday has only served to increase expectation levels among racing enthusiasts for Constitution Hill's Ascot return, and Buckley, who has owned many good horses over the years, has been astonished at how quickly the public have taken his superstar to their hearts.
"I was talking to [Ascot director of racing] Nick Smith the other day and he said it's a long time that a horse who has raced so little has gained such a public following," Buckley said.
"He looks something special. It's open company at Ascot, but if he runs like he did last season he has got an outstanding chance."
Buckley is looking forward to the wraps coming off Constitution Hill at Ascot, first step on the road to what an entire sport hopes is a Cheltenham Festival clash with Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle in March.
"I hope Constitution Hill progresses this season," he said. "He's older and more mature. He strengthened up over the summer.
"I hope everything goes well, and that he gets a nice, clear round. I hope all the runners in his race do."
Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "I can't see why the trip will be an issue. He's bred to stay and ran in a point-to-point. He switches off really well and we've never had any qualms about it. Ascot had beautiful ground on Friday, but we would have concerns if it dried out too much.
"What he did last year was verging on the ridiculous and you wonder all summer whether his ability would always be there, but his work suggests it is. Everything has gone well, but this is where we find out again. It's the first rung on the next ladder."
What they say
Gary Moore, trainer of Goshen
Incredibly, we have to give weight to Constitution Hill, the best horse we've seen for a long time. Goshen is in great order, he couldn't be better. It's a tough task, but there is £21,000 for finishing second.
Olly Murphy, trainer of Brewin'upastorm
You can never be afraid of one horse albeit he's a monster. Our lad is in good form and had an unfortunate start to his season when unseating at Aintree and on his day he's very good as we know. It will be great for him to be able to give Constitution Hill a race, but we're under no illusions that he'll be extremely hard to beat. Visually I don't think I've seen a novice as impressive as him. but he's going into open company for the first time and has to go out and do it. We'll give him plenty of respect, but we'll give it our best shot.
Alex Hales, trainer of For Pleasure
It's a huge ask against the favourite, but the prize-money is very good. I'm happy with him and I think he’ll improve for the step up in trip. He's a hard horse to place at the moment, over both hurdles and fences, so I think we'll keep running in races like this.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Uhtred
Uhtred is short on numbers in the big hurdle race but it's worth plenty of money. He's rated 141 and we'll see where we stand with him a little.
Reporting by Richard Birch
Saturday's race previews:
1.50 Haydock: 'He should be hard to beat' - Nicholls swerves L'Homme Presse test with Hitman
2.05 Ascot: Can Britain's top Gold Cup hope L'Homme Presse be troubled on his return?
2.25 Haydock: 'He goes there with every chance' - key quotes for the valuable stayers' hurdle
3.00 Haydock: Betfair Chase: A Plus Tard will be fine on the ground says confident De Bromhead
3.15 Ascot: Who can capitalise in this handicap chase with Edwardstone ruled out?
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