Cheltenham Festival: State Man delivers in absence of Constitution Hill to win Champion Hurdle

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

State Man gave Willie Mullins a fifth Champion Hurdle win as expected on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

With Constitution Hill ruled out of the race, the stage was set for big favourite State Man (2-5) in Tuesday’s feature race, and he did not let punters down.

Paul Townend was patient, taking the last with Irish Point, who ran an impressive race in second, and cruising up the hill as Mullins edged closer to a century of Cheltenham wins.

"Paul rode him so well - I didn't dream he would be fifth or sixth jumping the fourth-last but he rode him with supreme confidence,” Mullins said.

“He probably thought the ground would take it out of the horses in front of him. When you're riding with confidence, you can do that."

Luccia took third for Nicky Henderson, who was left to rue the absence of Constitution Hill, winner of this race 12 months ago.

The seven-year-old had a poor workout at Kempton Park and despite improvement in the build-up to the festival, blood tests were "quite a way from being satisfactory", leading Henderson to rule the star horse out.

Asked about Constitution Hill’s absence, Mullins said: "You've got to turn up to win a Champion Hurdle, and we turned up.”

State Man proved too good in the Champion Hurdle (Action Images via Reuters)
State Man proved too good in the Champion Hurdle (Action Images via Reuters)

It was the second of three wins for Mullins and Paul Townend on the day, moving the trainer to 97 at Cheltenham and on the verge of becoming the first to ever reach a ton.

Gaelic Warrior cruised to victory in the Arkle and it was a similar story in the Mares’ Hurdle, as favourite Lossiemouth stormed up the hill to beat Telmesomethinggirl by three lengths.

The Mullins-Townend partnership was made to briefly wait for their first winner of the week, after Rachael Blackmore took the opening race on Slade Steel in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

It is now 15 Festival wins for Blackmore, with heavy conditions making this the slowest running of the Supreme this century.

"I love this place and it's amazing to be coming here and riding these kind of horses," Blackmore said.

Later in the day, Lark In the Mornin took the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, before Corbetts Cross bolted up in the National Hunt chase for Emmet Mullins, nephew of Willie.

Highland Hunter and Ose Partir both suffered fatal injuries on the opening day of the Festival.

Highland Hunter was a winner at Newbury ten days ago, and had last week led the procession at the funeral of amateur jockey Keagan Kirkby in Somerset. Trainer Fergal O'Brien said he was “absolutely devastated” after the horse’s fall in the Ultima.

A spokesperson for Cheltenham Racecourse said: "Highland Hunter was immediately attended by expert veterinary professionals in the concluding stages of our third race but sadly passed away. Our heartfelt condolences are with his connections."

Ose Partir also suffered a fatal injury, having been one of the horses brought down in the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle, the penultimate race of the day.