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Horse Racing: Cheltenham Update – Henderson's star walks the walk

There was no doubting the star performance of the weekend as Constitution Hill powered to glory in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and rubber-stamped his position as Champion Hurdle favourite in doing so.

Nicky Henderson's charge emphatically won the Newcastle Grade 1 and will aim to be the first horse in a generation to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and return a year later to bag the two-mile Championship race. 

Here's our look back on the weekend's racing action from Britain and Ireland, and how the standout performances have impacted on the Cheltenham Festival betting. 

Constitution Hill gets tongues wagging 

A week on from his Ascot withdrawal, Constitution Hill was the star attraction at Newcastle on Saturday in the Fighting Fifth, the first Grade 1 hurdle race of the season in Britain. 

Race probably isn't the correct term, given the sheer ease with which Constitution Hill put his rivals away. He was always travelling strongly under Nico de Boinville, who sent him to the front from the off, allowing him to make full use of his mount's brilliantly slick jumping. 

At the line he was 12 lengths clear of dual previous winner Epatante, with another two and a quarter back to Not So Sleepy, who dead-heated for first last year with the mare. 

It was a stunningly good performance from Constitution Hill on his first start since that Supreme win in March. 

He is now 4/7 to win the Champion Hurdle come 14th March, with two-time defending champ Honeysuckle at 4/1.  

Some pundits and observers have already begun to suggest he could become the greatest two-mile hurdler of all time, though such suggestions are perhaps premature for a horse that has run only four times under rules. 

He's got an abundance of talent, but to be mentioned in the same breath as Istabraq or Hurricane Fly or Rooster Booster will require longevity. Henderson, however, was fulsome in his praise for his returning star. 

"This is a bit of a freak," said the trainer. "The beauty of him is his temperament. Because he is so wonderfully geared in his head you can do what you like: make the running, drop in, whatever you like. He just does it for you. He is so versatile. His brain is so good. He has to go to Kempton on Boxing Day next [for the Christmas Hurdle]."

L'homme Presse gets Rehearsal spot on An hour or so after that utterly brilliant display from Constitution Hill came the Rehearsal Handicap Chase at Newcastle and L'homme Presse defined top-weight to justify his strong position in the market. 

L'homme Presse won the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March and has now been beaten only once in his seven chase starts, that coming at Aintree in April at the end of a long season. 

The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old is the shortest-priced British-based runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup market at 7/1 following his display at Newcastle, where he jumped superbly and had more in hand than a one-length margin at the line might have hinted.  

After recent Irish domination at the Cheltenham Festival, the UK training ranks will be pleased with their lot given events at Newcastle. 

Winning jockey Charlie Deutsch said: "He's a brilliant horse, very classy. I was trying to make it as straightforward as I could for myself and him. 

"We had one scare at the first in the straight on the first lap as I left it to him but he survived and jumped brilliantly apart from that. He ran through to the line and he's not short of gears. He's a wonderful horse."

Fil Dor sparkles on chasing bow Gordon Elliott's Fil Dor dazzled on his chasing debut at Navan on Sunday, proving far too good for market rival Saint Roi in the Boardsmill Stud Irish EBF Beginners Chase. 

Fil Dor and Willie Mullins' Saint Roi dominated the contest with accurate jumping and they were locked together stride for stride entering the home straight. 

There was still nothing between the pair two out but Jack Kennedy's mount asserted thereafter, with four-lengths in hand passing the winning line. 

Fil Dor got a quote of 10/1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham over two-miles, while last season's Triumph Hurdle runner-up is 12/1 in the betting for the Marsh Novices' Chase over a half-mile further. 

"Jack said it rode a proper race. He was foot perfect apart from one down the back that he landed on top of," said Elliott. "You couldn't but be happy with him and I'd imagine he'll go to Leopardstown at Christmas."

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Champ and Paisley Park serve up a thriller 

Nicky Henderson has the rising start of jumps racing in Constitution Hill but one of his old guard showed the fire still burns brightly as Champ won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Friday. 

Champ led and travelled purposefully into the home straight under Jonjo O'Neill Jr, while Paisley Park was being worked on by Aidan Coleman to get a challenge going. 

A length split them jumping the last and it got ever closer as they ran wide apart on the track to the finish line, Champ edging the verdict by a neck. 

"There's still plenty of ability there, but also in Paisley Park too," said Henderson. "They are two fantastic horses and there didn't deserve to be a second." 

Champ is now 16/1 to win the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, with Paisley Park 20/1 to regain a crown he landed in 2019 and been seventh, third and third in since then.  

Emma Lavelle, trainer of the runner-up, suggested the pair are a testament to all that is good about jumps racing. 

She said: "I take my hat off to Champ – they're special. Ten-year-olds turning up and running races like that, it's what National Hunt racing is all about."

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