Constitution Hill is one of those rare talents whose accomplishments have propelled his profile beyond racing’s parish and into the perception of the wider public. And rightly so, as who couldn’t help but be captivated by a horse who has won seven races under rules from seven starts, six at Grade 1 level, and by a combined 89 lengths?
His growing fanbase has been treated to back-to-back Cheltenham Festival successes, with a record-breaking Supreme Novices’ romp followed by a bloodless Champion Hurdle victory, as well as imperious displays in the Fighting Fifth, Christmas and Aintree Hurdles. The evidence of these efforts make the full extent of his ability incredibly hard to gauge, but each win will doubtless increase the number of those following this astonishing trajectory.
While the general public’s appreciation of Constitution Hill looks certain to grow, there are those who held the six-year-old in high affection long before he became a household name. And without the involvement of the likes of Sally Noott, Simon Balding and Barry Geraghty, this story could have panned out oh so differently.
Noott has the distinction of breeding Constitution Hill having sent her winning and Listed-placed King’s Theatre mare Queen Of The Stage to Blue Bresil in the sire’s first season at Yorton Farm in 2016, back when the son of Smadoun was some way off the blue-chip prospect he is nowadays. The self-confessed “happy hacker” and “novice breeder” explains that another character, trainer Nick Williams, also had a significant role to play in Constitution Hill’s backstory.
“Nick Williams has bought a lot of our horses for us over the years and he’s very knowledgeable on breeding, particularly French pedigrees,” says Noott. “I said to him that if he came across a broodmare that would be suitable for me then could he buy it.
“He got us one and they threw in another very reasonably. Sadly I lost one of those broodmares so I told Nick I’d like another and he said he’d got Queen Of The Stage and that she’d finished her racing career.
“All credit to Nick because we discussed who we were going to send her to, as I always did, especially in the early days because I was such a novice, and he said he fancied Blue Bresil, although I can’t remember what it was that he liked about him at the time.”
Noott has been going racing since her childhood and first entered into racehorse ownership in late 2004 when her husband, Philip, purchased four-time winner Golden Duck, who was followed a year later by Call Me Edward. Both raced in the colours of Noott and her daughter Isobel. Between those two purchases the family moved to a new home in Belbroughton in Worcestershire, which helped encouraged Noott to take the leap from owner to breeder.
“I’ve always had a horse of my own, as had my daughter, but I’m a happy hacker and she’s done eventing,” she says. “When we moved house we had the land here so the racehorses came home in the summer. When we rebuilt the stables my husband said he’d put some foaling stables in, in case we ever wanted to have a go at breeding. At the time I thought I’d never do that but a few years later I changed my mind. I’d always gone racing, which started with my parents taking me, but I didn’t know anything about breeding.”
Constitution Hill was born on March 17th 2017 and spent his early weeks at Coolmore’s National Hunt division at The Beeches Stud as Flemensfirth was selected for Queen Of The Stage’s next mating. Once back in Worcestershire, it wasn’t long before his famously unflappable temperament became apparent.
“He had a little knock in the field so he was actually at Coolmore longer than he should’ve been,” says Noott. “Then, bizarrely, when they came home Queen Of The Stage injured her leg so she had to stop in for a couple of weeks with her foal. Constitution Hill was lovely to manage though and we had to handle him plenty while the stables were being mucked out. You tend to think the feisty ones are going to be the better ones, or perhaps that’s my naivety, but I’ve always thought that when they’re harder to handle and they’ve got a bit more about them.
“He was just very quiet and very straightforward. I’ve had horses just as nicely bred over the years but they’ve done nothing like Constitution Hill. I’m sure every breeder will say the same but it’s just the luck of the draw.”
Constitution Hill took his first step towards Cheltenham, literally and figuratively, when he was entrusted to the team at Throckmorton Court Stud just half an hour away from Prestbury Park. He spent around two and a half months at the Balding family’s operation before heading to the 2017 renewal of the Tattersalls Ireland November National Hunt Sale.
“He was weaned in September time and came over to us to get him ready for the sales,” says the farm’s Simon Balding. “When you have a horse who turns out to be a superstar you look back and think, was there anything memorable about him? He was an athletic colt and he had a nice page but you wouldn’t have looked at him and thought he was going to turn into the monster that he is, and that’s the beauty of the game.”
Balding says Constitution Hill breezed through his sales prep, with the only minor issue coming when he travelled over to Ireland in the company of a Gentlewave colt.
“He was an athletic colt and he had a nice page but you wouldn’t have looked at him and thought he was going to turn into the monster that he is, and that’s the beauty of the game”
“He was very placid but the only thing we found with him was that he got a bit too attached to his mate that he travelled over with!” he says. “It was almost like another weaning process when he got to Ireland, having to walk him out and show him. That’s quite often the case if they’ve been prepped together, they can get a bit of weaning anxiety once they’re split up at the sales. He had a straightforward temperament though and like a lot of foals he adapted to the sales quite quickly and just got on with the job.”
There were six lots by Blue Bresil in the November National Hunt Sale that year and, somewhat remarkably in light of subsequent events, Constitution Hill proved the cheapest of the bunch as he cost Warren Ewing and Barry Geraghty just €16,500.
“I was quite disappointed at the time but that’s the way it goes,” says Noott. “Obviously Blue Bresil wasn’t a really popular sire at the time and it’s so fickle in so much as you’ve got to have a fashionable stallion in the moment.”
Balding shared Noott’s disappointment at the price, but says the identity of the purchaser was a cause for optimism.
“I thought he’d fetch a bit more to be honest but I remember having a conversation with Sally saying he was going to have every chance and would probably end up at Nicky Henderson’s,” he says. “That’s the way we all have to look at the sales. It’s a bit like handing your kids over to teachers at school, you want them in the best hands and obviously with Barry and then Nicky, well, I guess it was written in the stars.”
Reflecting on his first impressions when he ventured down to box 441 in barn L at the Fairyhouse complex, Geraghty says: “For a first foal he had a good bit of size, a good bit of scope and good presence about him. He was an active individual with a nice pedigree, and a pedigree that had the potential to improve.
“We followed him in hoping to get him, but we were only hoping as we expected him to go just above our budget at the time, which was south of 20 grand. It must’ve been lunchtime and everyone was out as he seemed to go a little unnoticed.”
From the moment the hammer fell, Geraghty was confident he and Ewing had landed a bargain.
“I’ve bought a good few horses over the years but the ones that standout are the ones when you’re leaving the sales and you’re thinking ‘we might have robbed one today!’” he says. “We always felt we’d got a little bit more than we should for our budget with him.”
Although Constitution Hill has done wonders for the profile of his sire, who now stands at the Cashman family’s Glenview Stud, Geraghty was among his early fans having had first-hand experience of his stock.
“From the experience I’d had with Le Prezien and other horses that I’d seen, I had faith in Blue Bresil. I felt he had plenty of potential as a sire”
“Blue Bresil was a big factor,” he says. “I’d ridden Le Prezien for Paul Nicholls and JP McManus and although I never thought he was going to be a superstar, I’d have liked him as an individual and he was up for it, you could say. You want to be buying horses by a sire you have faith in, and from the experience I’d had with Le Prezien and other horses that I’d seen, I had faith in Blue Bresil. I felt he had plenty of potential as a sire.”
Once Geraghty got Constitution Hill home it wasn’t long before his own potential began to shine through, despite not appearing to take life as a racehorse too seriously.
“At every stage through his time here he was progressing the way you’d like,” he says. “We got him broken, got him going at two and he was as lazy as sin! He would’ve never excited me in what he was doing but I was always happy about how he did it. Albeit he was lazy about his work, he wasn’t finding it difficult at any stage. He was coming to hand nicely and in the end I told Warren he better take this fella on quick as he just needed to get into fast work.”
When horses have a quiet disposition it is often said a child could ride them. In Constitution Hill’s case, despite Geraghty saying it has never happened before and hasn’t happened since, that is exactly what transpired.
“Only recently the kids were telling me he used to look over the hedge at them when they were in the playground at the back of the house,” he says. “He was so quiet that my then nine-year-old Orla kept asking if she could have a go on him. Eventually I gave in and she had a sit on him, then my eldest daughter Siofra, who was 15, had a go and then Rian, who was only five, got up on him. Orla was leading him in and out of the paddock and constantly helping with him because he was that quiet. That’s not often the case with a three-year-old store, but that was him. He was just so placid.”
After a couple of years of growing and with the early stage of his education completed, Constitution Hill departed for Ewing’s County Antrim base, although such was his rate of progress that it wasn’t long before he and Geraghty were reunited.
“The reports from Warren were good so we brought him down to Jim Dreaper’s to gallop on the grass, gallops that have seen no shortage of famous names over the years,” says Geraghty. “I sat on him there and he went really well. I ran out of gallop in the end and finished up in a ploughed field! He was doing all the right things. If you have to push them then they’re not likely to be the one you’re going to get excited about but with this fella it was just one click in the ear and boom, he’s up a gear. The good ones make themselves known.”
It may be hard to believe given what has happened since, but when Ewing saddled Constitution Hill in a four-year-old maiden at Tipperary he suffered defeat at the hands of Anyharminasking, who is now rated 40 lb his inferior, with a bad mistake at the last proving the difference between victory and a head defeat under Ben Harvey.
That also impacted his next public appearance, as he was sent to the 2021 Goffs UK Spring Sale and sold to Nicky Henderson, acting on behalf of Michael Buckley, at £120,000. Although that is not an inconsiderable sum, there is no doubt it undersells Constitution Hill’s virtually priceless ability.
“It’s like looking at the National Hunt equivalent of Frankel and we always have a big smile on our faces when we see him”
“He must’ve been sore somewhere or tweaked something as he had a good bit of muscle wastage across his back in the week leading up to the sale,” says Geraghty. “I’d say travelling over to Doncaster compounded that and he didn’t look well. For that reason a lot of people would’ve passed up on him and he probably didn’t achieve what he should’ve.”
The rest is not so much history, rather history making. Constitution Hill may now be under the care of others, but his past connections are enjoying the journey as if he were still their own.
“Standing in the parade ring last year with my family around me watching what he did in the Supreme was up there with any of my great days in Cheltenham, be that Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth or Kicking King,” says Geraghty. “To have my family around me sharing that moment, and for them to be involved in the way they were all the way through, was just magic.
“It was the same again this year watching him win the Champion Hurdle. I’ve never been as nervous watching a race. The flash at the last was over before I’d even realised what had happened because I was watching on so anxiously.”
Balding is quick to express his gratitude for being a part of a tale that he hopes will inspire others in the breeding game, saying: “We just feel fortunate to have played a little part in the story. It’s like looking at the National Hunt equivalent of Frankel and we always have a big smile on our faces when we see him.
“He came to Belbroughton, then to Throckmorton and now there he is up the road at Cheltenham storming up the hill. It just shows for all those people out there breeding, anything’s possible.”
Having decided to dedicate more of her free time to her family, Noott no longer owns any broodmares, with Queen Of The Stage sold on to Jayne McGivern’s Dash Grange Stud for €340,000 in May last year. The mare delivered a full-sister to Constitution Hill in late March and is due to return to Blue Bresil.
Noott has not ruled out owning other mares in due course, but whatever happens in the future, Constitution Hill has already taken her to the pinnacle of the breeding pyramid.
“I couldn’t get any more pleasure out of it if he was my own,” she says. “We always used to say, we don’t care what they do or if they play up in the field, so long as they get us to Cheltenham. That was always a bit of a joke but this is beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of.
“There’s people who are into racing and they know I breed a bit, but when I tell people I don’t know that I bred Constitution Hill they absolutely fall off their chair. ‘You?! Constitution Hill?!’ I love it.
“I get such a buzz because I’m the unknown person. He hasn’t come from one of the big studs. He’s come from a small breeder and a woman who didn’t know anything about it really when she first started. I’ve just learned as I’ve gone along. We always go to Cheltenham anyway but I wouldn’t have missed him running and to be there has been fantastic, incredible…emotional.”