Constitution Hill and Nico de Boinville dominate the Fifth

Sunday November 27 2022,  The Sunday Times

True class should make you tingle. Even watching on a big screen 300 miles to the south of Newcastle, what Constitution Hill did to the former champion Epatante in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle fairly took the breath away.

We must try not to get carried away. For all her continuing excellence, twice a Fighting Fifth winner and behind Honeysuckle in the past two Champion Hurdles, Epatante is already rated a full stone inferior to Constitution Hill and a shuddering blunder at the third last hardly helped her cause on Saturday. But it was not only what Constitution Hill did but the way he did it.

With no rival ready to lead, Nico de Boinville set his own gallop and for hurdle after hurdle he and Constitution Hill were a sight to treasure. Heaven spare me, but I have seen every top hurdler since Sir Ken won his first Champion in 1954 and none of them crossed a hurdle with quite the spring-heeled potential that Constitution Hill did on Saturday. It counts little if the five-year-old fails to fulfil his promise but the fact that he could throw in a sub-13-second furlong when pressed in the straight shows the clock is also on his side.

Back here at Newbury the tingle was of a different kind, the heart-stirring kick you get when one of the most famous races lives up to its billing. This running of what was originally the Hennessy and now the Coral Gold Cup, may not have had winners like Arkle, Denman and Bobs Worth in the field, but with 16 runners, drama from the beginning, and a magnificent three-horse finale, it was something to warm the blood.

The drama came at the first fence when the normally admirable Adrian Heskin got caught by the impossibly named Threeunderthrufive and rolled over the side on landing. His horse chose to continue as an unwelcome guest for the rest of the 21-fence 3¼-mile journey. Despite nearly mowing down last-fence spectators on the first circuit and appearing a galloping hazard on the run-in, Threeunderthrufive could not take the spotlight from Harry Skelton as he and Le Milos finally outgunned the David Pipe stablemates Remastered and Gericault Roque.

Remastered had looked like winning last year before capsizing with Tom Scudamore four from home. This time Tom and Gericault Roque were always close up to Annsam and the young Irish hope Busselton, who still headed things as the field turned into the straight. But although Skelton was already pushing on Le Milos, we could see that he was getting plenty of answers and drove up to lead at the third last.

In great races it is never all over. Harry kept stoking but neither Gericault Roque nor the looming up Remastered would leave him alone. Thundering down to the last fence, all three were still possible, on the run-in Remastered was always closing and the errant Threeunderthrufive suddenly crashed in like a ball from the next-door football pitch. But Le Milos proved a worthy favourite and the Skelton brothers added another major prize to their ever-expanding trophy cupboard.

It was a splendid moment, yet the mind kept going back to those nine spectacular leaps and that extraordinary finishing surge that Constitution Hill had seared into the memory. Fifty-six years ago Flyingbolt hacked up in the Champion Chase and next afternoon was a rather unlucky second in the Champion Hurdle. Such double attempts are outlawed now, but at this rate we will start believing Constitution Hill could win both races on the same afternoon.

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