Forty-eight hours on from an apparently flawless performance like Constitution Hill’s 12-length success at Newcastle on Saturday, the adrenaline has worn off and it is generally possible to make a more objective assessment of the form. Perhaps the second-favourite ran well below form, went off too fast or made a mistake at a key stage. Maybe the winner was the only one that acted on the ground.
This time, there’s nothing. Not even the faintest hint of a hole to niggle away at. Constitution Hill travelled supremely well from the first stride, settled easily into his unfamiliar role as a frontrunner and flew every hurdle without a second thought. When Nico de Boinville asked for just a little of what his partner had left in the tank, Constitution Hill’s turn of foot was immediate and electrifying. He scarcely moved past second gear but still covered the two miles 17 seconds faster than the winner of the opening juvenile hurdle.
Jumping has a generational talent on its hands, at the very least, and conceivably the best hurdler of all time. Istabraq, around the turn of the century, and Night Nurse, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon, from the golden era in the 1970s, are among the great names that Constitution Hill needs to surpass, while Sir Ken and Hatton’s Grace, both three-time winners just after the second world war, deserve to be part of the conversation too.
With only four runs in the book, however, Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old is already just 5lb behind Night Nurse, Timeform’s top-rated hurdler in the half-century or so that the firm has been assessing jumpers. The best news of all for the sport is that he has a contemporary rival in Honeysuckle who might well be good enough to give him a serious test.
There is, of course, a great deal that could go wrong between now and 14 March, but a head-to-head with the flavour of Arkle versus Mill House in the 1960s in next year’s Champion Hurdle could be just three and a half months away.
You need to be pushing 70 to remember the 1964 Gold Cup, which helped to establish Arkle’s status as the finest steeplechaser in National Hunt history, but like Constitution Hill, Arkle won a novice event at the Festival a year earlier to set up his clash with Mill House, the defending champion, in the Gold Cup.
Unlike the more recent, much-anticipated head-to-head between Kauto Star and Denman in the 2009 Gold Cup, meanwhile, it was also a meeting of rivals from either side of the Irish Sea. The prospect of having something similar to sell to the general sporting public next year will have racing’s various PR squads – at Great British Racing, Jockey Club Racecourses and ITV – gnawing at the bit.
If the next few months unfold to plan, and Honeysuckle does indeed put an 18-race unbeaten record on the line in the Champion Hurdle against what is likely to be Constitution Hill’s perfect five-from-five, my personal view is that even a 7lb mares’ allowance will not save Honeysuckle from a beating that confirms Constitution Hill as the best hurdler of any generation. If that possibility does not keep you warm through the depths of winter, nothing will.