Cheltenham: Constitution Hill confirms star status in spectacular fashion

Henderson’s novice sets course record as home trainers land first blows on opening day

From a cross-channel perspective, after Day 1 of Cheltenham it must have been tempting to ask 'crisis – what crisis?"

Left to lick their wounds for a year following 2021’s unprecedented 23-5 drubbing by Irish trained horses, the Anglo element to the festival’s most enduring rivalry rallied to spectacular effect on Tuesday.

It ended with the home team edging the visitors four races to three and perhaps left quite a few of those voices who’d been dismissive of such a blunt and artificial national tot suddenly changing their tune.

Certainly Irish presumptions of a similar “green-wash” to last year look shaky after the first day although suspicions persist that the full weight of the visiting team has yet to be unleashed.


For now though home fears of the week being little more than a face-saving exercise have been replaced by a new swagger that ultimately has to do the old Anglo-Irish rivalry some good.

As Irish success stories go then Padraig Roche, son of the former champion flat jockey, Christy Roche, saddling a first festival winner with his first British runner, Brazil in the Boodles Hurdle, takes a bit of topping.

There was also an impressive victory for Stattler in the concluding Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Chase that got Willie Mullins off the mark for the week.

However, apart from Honeysuckle taking her Champion Hurdle cue once again, Tuesday’s three other Grade 1 prizes stayed on home soil with one in particular holding the promise of much more to come.

Expectations are so inflated at Cheltenham that they’re rarely exceeded but the remarkable Constitution Hill managed it in spades with a spectacular Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle victory.

"Someone tried to tell me to run him in the Champion Hurdle and I'll get it in the neck for not doing it after a performance like that," exclaimed his trainer Nicky Henderson.

After a 22-length rout of his stable companion Jonbon, and in a course record time to boot, the horse sold to Henderson by his ex-jockey Barry Geraghty looked as if he could have run in any race this week.

Comparisons to superb novice champions of the past such as the 1978 Supreme winner Golden Cygnet were floating around for a horse that really does look to have the racing world at his feet.

He was quick on those feet too having switched to Dysart Dynamo’s inside just before the other 9-4 joint-favourite fell at the third last.

But it was impossible not to be impressed by the power he showed up the hill off such a frantic pace.

Whether it justifies some layers making a youngster with just three runs under his belt favourite to beat Honeysuckle at Punchestown next month is much more debatable.

But that prices are even available underlines the impression made by racing’s newest superstar.

Henderson and jockey Nico de Boinville doubled up in the Mares’ Hurdle as Marie’s Rock led home a handful of Irish rivals.

Indefatigable’s fall at the second last took out Telmesoemthinggirl and almost brought the unlucky third, Mrs Milner, to a standstill before she rallied.

“Bryan [Cooper] thought he would have won.

"She was just coming into it lovely and he was praying the two in front wouldn't miss it because he was going to wind it as he was meeting it perfectly but they came down and nearly wiped her out. She flew home," said Mrs Milner's frustrated trainer, Paul Nolan.

Edwardstone lived up to being 5-2 favourite for the Sporting Life Arkle and did it the hard way too.

A faller at the fourth fence forced Edwardstone into a nimble swerve that had no less than AP McCoy comparing Alan King's star to the late actor Patrick Swayze.

He also overcame Riviere d’Étel persistently jumping to her right and ultimately won with authority by over four lengths.

Brazil is a full brother to the Irish Derby and St Leger winner Capri so wasn’t bred to win a juvenile handicap at Cheltenham.

That he did so by a short head from the heavily backed favourite Gaelic Warrior broke some punting spirits but ensured him of a place in Roche’s heart.

Twenty years after his father saddled a third festival winner in Like-A-Butterfly in the Supreme, Roche also supplied JP McManus with Cheltenham success.

“This is my fourth year training and I’ve only got a handful of horses at home so it’s just unbelievable to have a winner here,” Roche said.

Willie and Patrick Mullins are expected to win at Cheltenham so after an otherwise frustrating day there was relief at how Stattler saw off Run Wild Fred in the longest race of the day.

“This British dominance has been going on all day,” the festival’s most successful ever trainer joked. “I thought Patrick was very cool on him. My nerves were in bits the whole time but he got him into a rhythm and produced him.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column