Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill was an easy winner of the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The five-year-old is unbeaten under rules and was a 1-4 chance going into the Grade One, odds that did not look unfounded as he made all of the running and jumped with complete fluency.
Partnered by Nico de Boinville, he pulled clear of stablemate and two-time winner Epatante, crossing the line at a canter to win by 12 lengths with any amount in hand.
Paddy Power cut Constitution Hill from evens to 8-11 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, with Coral going 4-7 from 5-4 for the Cheltenham highlight.
Henderson was not at Newcastle, instead opting to saddle his Newbury runners, but the trainer was thoroughly impressed with the performance.
He said: “He’s an amazing horse. I couldn’t have been happier with Epatante, she’s run a great race and she’s been in terrific form. For him to do that to her, when she’s won one and a half times over the last two years, is ridiculous really.
“She came and galloped here 10 days ago, she’s in cracking form, she won it last year and the year before and yet, I have to say I felt sorry for her. She’s a wonderful filly, she was second in the Champion Hurdle last year yet this horse could just lob around, press a button and I have to say, it was a bit special.
“I have to say any clown could probably train this horse. Some lesser horses are rather more complicated, this is just ABC – you just let him go through the motions and he doesn’t bother. His mind is so good and that helps enormously.
“He’s going round there on his own out in front and he’s taking nothing out of himself at all, he’s doing his own thing and his jumping is great. He’s never seen the front like that before but so what? It’s just all the same to him. He is completely unflappable.
“I think you’d probably have to say the Christmas Hurdle is the natural [target]. He’s got to go to the Christmas Hurdle, then we just slip through January and then the great clash is going to come with Honeysuckle [at Cheltenham].
“I think everyone is looking forward to it and I don’t suppose we will meet until March. It will be a big day.”
De Boinville described the race as “straightforward”, but felt there could be further improvement to come from Constitution Hill.
He said: “It was very straightforward, my instructions were just to keep it as simple as I can. Newcastle have done a great job with the ground, it’s lovely good to soft ground.
“I could hear them behind me and it was just a case of once I turned in, I just gradually quickened up and gradually went through the gears. He had it put to bed after a few jumps, he was very slick today and I think fitness-wise he will come on for the run which is interesting to think.
“He’s the most straightforward horse you could possibly ride, he just lobs away with his ears pricked. I was over the moon coming past the stands here, he was just having a look around, he’s a joy to ride.”
Epatante’s owner JP McManus was not too disheartened in defeat.
He said: “It’s nice to be beaten by a champion – he looks pretty special doesn’t he?
“She ran a good race, there’s no complaints.”
Le Milos came out on top for Dan and Harry Skelton in the Coral Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Newbury.
The seven-year-old was making his second start for the stable and was kept handy throughout, jumping well having started as the 9-2 favourite.
Ahead of the second-last he was able to take up the running as his rivals had fallen away, eventually prevailing from a tough battle to the line with the runner-up, David Pipe’s Remastered.
Pipe also saddled third-placed Gericault Roque, with Corach Rambler staying on for fourth. Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton, the only Irish-trained horse in the field, finished fifth under JJ Slevin.
“We just really fancied him for it, he’d stepped forward so much since Bangor,” Skelton said, referencing the horse’s victory on his stable debut.
“There was definitely some apprehension over the ground, obviously Bangor was very soft but I felt that he’d really stepped forward and I’m glad they put the water on last night.
“There was never any doubt that we were going to run but it just probably helped us a bit.
“From the back of the last I thought Remastered had got us – I’m actually surprised he didn’t as we’d been out there to be gunned down for a while.
“He was so brave for Harry at the last, another stride and we’d have been beaten. If he’d have put one more in then that would have been it, you’d have a different winner.
“It was just a fabulous race, after last weekend I can’t really believe our lucky stars at the moment!
“He was full of himself, his skin was wriggling he felt that well. He was in magical shape and I just thought this could happen.
“The lack of rain was concerning but he is clearly a progressive horse.”