Tony Wells - Racegoers Club column November 2023

23 November 2023

This is the time of year when jump racing enthusiasts start to get really excited. It seems like every other day there’s the seasonal debut of another star jumper. There’s none more eagerly anticipated at the moment than Constitution Hill. He has lit up the last two seasons with deeply impressive performances and has left us wondering if we have still to see the best of him.

He has been expertly managed by his owner, Michael Buckley and trainer Nicky Henderson. It cannot be easy when a horse transcends into being a ‘People’s Horse’ and members of the public feel that they have a right to demand how the horse should be campaigned. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when some individuals decide to take to social media and criticise the connections of Constitution Hill, because he isn’t going chasing this season. How dare Michael and Nicky deny those racing fans who are desperate to see another Dawn Run?

Well the simple answer to that question is that Michael Buckley owns the horse and Nicky Henderson is employed to train him. It’s entirely up to them to decide how the horse should be campaigned and if they believe Constitution Hill is unlikely to stay the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip, then we should respect their decision. With all their years of experience, surely they know best.

There will still be those that would be happy to see the ‘Hill’ over a fence, even if it’s only over 2 miles and I dare say it would probably be a spectacular sight. But, would he contest the Champion Chase this season? Probably not. In which case, a season spent novice chasing may well pale in comparison to him becoming a dual Champion Hurdler. And, let’s not forget, the Champion Hurdle is second only in prestige to the Gold Cup in races run at the Cheltenham Festival.

We don’t have to go back too far to remember the hopes and expectations that racing fans held for the likes of Samcro and Envoi Allen. They were both hailed as future chasing champions, only for those dreams to become just that. God forbid that Constitution Hill went chasing, only to end up being a Ryanair horse. That is not to denigrate that race, but we don’t revere the winners of it, in the same way past Champion Hurdlers are lauded.

Constitution Hill is a brilliant hurdler, the best we’ve seen since Istabraq. I don’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing him strut his stuff over hurdles and as long as his connections decide that’s what he should do, then punters need to respect that decision. He just might be the best we will ever see over a hurdle and he’s in the best hands to fulfil that potential.

From a current champion to a former champion. I had the pleasure of seeing Stradivarius in his new home, at the National Stud on a bright September day. The visit was organised by the ROA and it was an immensely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. We got to see Stradivarius and two of his fellow stallions and were told what their routine is during the covering season. Strad covered around 120 mares earlier this year and his handler, Molly told us he would cover up to four mares a day, but he would do ten if you let him. She said he really enjoys his job! The fourth stallion, Time Test was absent, as he is down in New Zealand covering some southern hemisphere mares. It’s probably best that Strad doesn’t know what Time Test is up to!

Some of Strad’s first crop will be appearing at the sales this time next year, but we won’t be seeing them on a racecourse until 2025 and there’s a good chance it’ll be well into 2026 before we start to understand if Stradivarius is going to be a successful stallion. I do hope he is, because he deserves to be. He’s such a character and he gave racing fans so much pleasure over the years and if ever a horse was born to be a stallion, it is him. I was at Glorious Goodwood in 2022, when he finished 2nd to Kyprios when attempting to win his fifth Goodwood Cup and he was still acting coltish in the pre parade ring. You wouldn’t back a 2yo that was acting the way he did before his races, yet he managed to rack up a European record of 18 group races, featuring 7 Group Ones. If you get a chance to visit him at the National Stud, do so. You won’t regret it.

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