Cheltenham Festival: Willie Mullins’ State Man wins Champion Hurdle in absence of Constitution Hill

Cheltenham Festival: Willie Mullins’ State Man wins Champion Hurdle in absence of Constitution Hill

State Man justified short-priced favouritism to take the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Paul Townend, the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut started as the 2/5 market leader in the absence of reigning champion Constitution Hill, who had run out such a convincing winner 12 months ago.

The seven-year-old enjoyed an untroubled passage through the race on the inside rail and when he kicked for home only Gordon Elliott’s Irish Point could go with him, but it was State Man who held the upper hand to go one better than last year by a length and a quarter.

Luccia ran a fine race in third for Constitution Hill’s trainer, Nicky Henderson.

Mullins said: “I was amazed with the way Paul rode him, I thought he’d be much more forward, I didn’t dream that he’d only be fifth or sixth jumping the fourth-last. But he just rode him with supreme confidence.

“I thought he’d make more use of his stamina, but Paul seemed to ride him for speed today and he clearly felt there was enough in the ground to take it out of the horses in front of him.

Paul Townend landed his first Champion Hurdle aboard State Man

“But when jockeys are riding with confidence, they can do things like that and I feel that’s the way he’s been riding all season. He’s a fantastic jockey.”

Asked if his charge is truly suited by Cheltenham and whether Constitution Hill would have been a big challenger, Mullins added: “He’s probably a better horse around Leopardstown, but he’s a Champion Hurdle winner. You’ve got to turn up to win a Champion Hurdle – we turned up.”

He went on: “He probably doesn’t produce his best at Cheltenham, but you’ve got to turn up to win a Champion Hurdle.

“I think Paul was probably riding him very conservatively, he was keeping everything in reserve for the last hurdle, I think.

“Of course we were aware when Constitution Hill came out that the expectation grew, but you have to turn up to win and he turned up.

“He’s a very good horse and he deserves a Champion Hurdle. I’d imagine Nicky will get Constitution Hill back and we can have another crack next year. Any day you get a winner here is good.”

Elliott was delighted with the effort of Irish Point, who was switched to the Champion from the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“I’m delighted with that run and it shows we made the right decision. We were beaten a length and a quarter by a proper two-miler. The horses seem to be in form, and that’s all that matters.”

His rider Jack Kennedy said: “He’s lost nothing in defeat and has run a blinder.”

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