Henry de Bromhead punches the air after Cheltenham roared Honeysuckle home
Henry de Bromhead punches the air after Cheltenham roared Honeysuckle home

Cheltenham Festival 2023 from the course | Racing royalty Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle light up Festival

Ben Linfoot sums up a swirling day of emotions at the Cheltenham Festival as Constitution Hill took Honeysuckle's crown, only for Henry de Bromhead's queen to steal the show.

The Cheltenham winners’ enclosure can be a surreal place.

Bathed in sunshine on Champion Hurdle day, just after the feature contest, you had racing royalty, Nicky Henderson, wiping the tears from his eyes. You had Cheltenham royalty, Michael Dickinson and Henrietta Knight, clapping in a horse of a generation. You had cricketing royalty, Michael Vaughan, enjoying the moment with his pals. You had political royal… you had Matt Hancock, telling anyone who’d listen he’d seen something ‘really, really special’. You had TV/maths royalty, Carol Vorderman, happy to stop for a selfie. You had actual royalty, Princess Anne, beaming as the winner was washed down.

And you had equine royalty, Constitution Hill, who was imperious in the first of Cheltenham’s crown jewels, jockey Nico de Boinville now having completed the holy trinity, this trophy to sit alongside his Champion Chase and Gold Cup mementoes.

In a venue where the Unique Selling Point is excitement and drama, the Champion Hurdle provided very little in that regard. This was hurdling by numbers and there was never a moment’s doubt. Constitution Hill settled well, took a lead, travelled, jumped slick and quick and moved into the front rank without fuss. A mere squeeze took him clear and off a moderate gallop he did them for speed and class and brilliance.

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Only the most nervous took a gasp as he went for a long one at the last, but De Boinville was cool, sat tight, and merely nudged him up the hill for a serene nine-length success. State Man, a genuinely talented 167-rated hurdler who was going for a fifth consecutive Grade 1, was made to look pedestrian, but he ran well in second, four lengths clear of the third.

The gallop didn’t allow Henderson’s horse to post a time and figure like he did in last year’s Sky Bet Supreme, but the number crunchers can relax. This horse can do anything and on another day he surely will secure a rating out of line with anything we’ve seen in this division for many a year.

“Only one of these horses come along in a lifetime,” said an emotional Henderson. “You can’t get a horse like this if you only have one horse, you have to have a lot of horses to find one of these and we are lucky.”

Cheltenham Day One: Ranked

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Hiding behind Princess Anne was racing/jockey/Cheltenham royalty Barry Geraghty, a man who rode 18 of Henderson’s now 73 Festival winners.

He bought Constitution Hill as a six-month old foal for €16,500 and nurtured him after he took his breath away in an early gallop where he quickened and kept quickening into a ploughed field. He sold him to Henderson for £120,000 four years later and spoke like a proud father as he watched his pride and joy soak up the considerable applause.

“This spectator stuff isn’t easy,” he said. “It was easier riding them. Oh god, 15 minutes before the race it just hit me. It’s a surreal experience. When you see the videos of the kids riding him as a youngster, their involvement and all of that, it’s magical.

“He’s special. Just playful, he’s so much class. Healthy and well, that’s all we need and there’s lots more enjoyment in him. He’s in great hands.” Just six-years-old, it’s hard to imagine what this horse might go on to achieve, but the superlatives are justified.

Remarkably, Constitution Hill wasn’t the moment of the day as the spine-tingling thunder from the packed grandstands was reserved for another Champion Hurdler, Honeysuckle, who bowed out in the Mares’ with a last-gasp victory over Love Envoi. Here was that USP.


There wasn’t really a sense of what might have been had she tried to retain her crown against Constitution Hill, just an explosion of joy as she bowed out of the game with her 13th Grade 1 in a remarkable career that ended with another tough-as-teak win.

This Mares’ Hurdle had the most depth of any renewal there has ever been with Epatante, another Champion Hurdler, Marie’s Rock, Love Envoi and Brandy Love all bringing highly credible form to the table, but Honeysuckle oozed quality against her own sex.

The reception as Rachael Blackmore patted Honeysuckle into the winners’ enclosure was raucous. The Irish tricolour was splattered around the packed crowd. A fourth consecutive Cheltenham success, your Festival goer will one day be ordering a pint of Guinness in the Honeysuckle bar.

Of course, emotions ran high for trainer Henry de Bromhead, whose son, Jack, died in a tragic pony racing accident last September. He spoke of the ‘unbelievable support’ he and his family have received from everyone, but then moved the conversation on to pay tribute to Honeysuckle, whose racing career he has navigated with spectacular success.

“As we say so often it doesn’t happen, but thankfully it did today,” De Bromhead mused.

Cheltenham racecourse can be a surreal place. Today it witnessed a true champion and a fairytale.

Cheltenham day one reports

Constitution Hill breathtaking in the Champion Hurdle

El Fabiolo floors Jonbon in Sporting Life Arkle

Honeysuckle bows out in style

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