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Cheltenham Festival: Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill is the darling of National Hunt racing right now and heads towards the Cheltenham Festival fully expected by most observers to saunter his way to Champion Hurdle glory.

As the countdown to the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.

None are more prominent in that regard than Nicky Henderson's Constitution Hill - the Champion Hurdler-elect for 2023.

WhatChampion Hurdle
WhereCheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
When3.30, Tuesday 14th March, 2023
How to watchITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 live Sports Streaming
OddsConstitution Hill 1/3, State Man 4/1, Honeysuckle 8/1, Vauban 9/1, Epatante 20/1

The biggest draw in jumps racing?

This season began with talk of a Constitution Hill v Honeysuckle showdown in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but that narrative has altered greatly as we close in on The Festival.

Constitution Hill has won two open Grade 1s via Newcastle's Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton - those wins by a combined margin of 29 lengths and with Nico de Boinville's partner scarcely taken out of second gear.

It has created a veneer of invincibility around Henderson's latest superstar, enough to cement his position as 1/3 favourite for the Champion Hurdle on 14th March.

While his cloak of greatness is being fitted for size this season, the outstanding mare Honeysuckle saw a crack appear in her hitherto perfect complexion.

The mare returned in the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse in December and could only finish third behind Teahupoo and Klassical Dream - the 17th hurdles start of her career bringing with it a shock first defeat.

That means she's as big as 8/1 to land an historic third Champion Hurdle crown and now very much cast in the shadow of Constitution Hill.

Delivering on the star quality of novice term

Constitution Hill has history at this meeting. Last March, he went off joint-favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle alongside Willie Mullins' Dysart Dynamo.

That rival fell and it was left instead to Jonbon - also trained by Henderson - to briefly throw down a challenge to Constitution Hill.

Of course, it was a vain pursuit as the winner bludgeoned his rivals with a 22-length win, visually impressive at the time and later confirmed by the clock - a course record, no less, and more than five seconds faster than when Honeysuckle won the Champion Hurdle later the same day.

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It was breathtaking stuff, and when Henderson declined the idea of going to Ireland to face the mare at Punchestown, all eyes were diverted towards their potential clash this season.

Those wins at Newcastle and Kempton have confirmed that Constitution Hill is as good as he looked last term. So far, no rival has managed to even get him engaged in a battle, far less dare to threaten him with defeat.

The question now is - can anything lay a blow on him come Cheltenham?

Prep race deemed unlikely

With an old Henderson staple, the Contenders at Sandown, now redundant the trainer has more or less conceded Constitution Hill won't race again before 14th March.

The Seven Barrows supremo half-heartedly talked at Christmas of going to Leopardstown for the Irish Champion Hurdle in February but he was absent when the entries for that race were unveiled, to the surprise of nobody.

Henderson admitted the season is 'very truncated' but his festive musing that 'Cheltenham and Aintree is what it's all about now' looks spot on.

Coronation of the King

Stablemate Epatante has finished second in both those Grade 1s this season and at 20/1 is the shortest-priced British contender behind Constitution Hill. It is improbable she can turn things around.

The Irish challenge includes Honeysuckle as well as Mullins' pair State Man at 4/1 and Vauban at 9/1. Both were winners in the Cotswolds last season.

The former has two Grade 1 wins in Ireland this season, while Vauban gave him a race at Leopardstown over Christmas on his first outing in the senior ranks. They both have some way to go on paper if they are rise to this challenge.

All in all, its nigh-on impossible to see how Constitution Hill will be denied, barring an accident on the way around. He is the star turn of British jumps racing right now and defeat for him is unfathomable.

This is, though, the heat of Championship battle at the Cheltenham Festival and at the very least, it can be expected that some of his rivals will make him break a sweat on the way round. Whether they get any further than that remains to be seen.

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