Constitution Hill had put up the best performance by a novice hurdler in Timeform's history when landing the Supreme Novices' Hurdle by 22 lengths at Cheltenham in March, earning a figure of 177p that only six hurdlers of any experience have bettered.
He didn't strictly match that figure in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday, but he produced another outstanding display and the way he sauntered 12 lengths clear of Epatante, the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner who was beaten only three and a half lengths in second in the latest renewal, cemented the view that he is a hurdler right out of the very top drawer. In fact, Timeform's reporter hailed him the "complete package as a two-mile hurdler", citing his cruising speed, tactical versatility and electric jumping, plus a "breathtaking turn of foot" that saw him quickly settle matters.
It's worth remembering that Constitution Hill is only four starts into his career under Rules and has always won with remarkable ease - he has scored by a cumulative margin of 60 lengths and has never won by fewer than 12 lengths - so he still has the 'p' attached to his rating to denote he remains capable of better. A scary prospect for connections of his opponents, but a mouthwatering one for racing fans.
Constitution Hill understandably hogged the headlines on Saturday but L'Homme Presse also posted a top-class effort at Newcastle, earning a Timeform rating of 172p (from 166p) for his comfortable success under top weight in an excellent edition of the Rehearsal Handicap Chase.
That is 1 lb higher than the rating Protektorat earned for his wide-margin win in the Betfair Chase seven days earlier, which means that the only staying chasers rated higher are Allaho (179), A Plus Tard (177) and Galopin des Champs (175p).
L'Homme Presse is now rated significantly higher than the market leaders for the King George VI Chase, with Bravemansgame (162+), Hitman (163) and Envoi Allen (166) unable to match the level of form L'Homme Presse displayed at Newcastle. The King George is seemingly not on the agenda, with owner Andy Edwards saying: "I don’t know (where he goes next) but it would have to rain a lot to go to the King George". However, Timeform described the ground at Newcastle as good, highlighting L'Homme Presse's versatility, and he would be the one to beat on form if turning up at Kempton.
L'Homme Presse, a dual Grade 1 winner last season, including the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, had a big class edge over his Newcastle rivals dropping back into a handicap, but it was still no mean feat to defy a BHA mark of 164 against some interesting sorts.
We have seen some big efforts from topweights in handicaps this season, including from the likes of Greaneteen in the Haldon Gold Cup and Frodon in the Badger Beer Chase, but it's still relatively rare to see horses win off a mark as high as 164. Only 16 times this century has a chaser defied a higher rating, with that list headed by Well Chief who landed the Victor Chandler Chase off 176 in 2005. The bulk of that list is comprised by two-milers and only Denman has defied a higher mark than 164 in a handicap chase at around three miles or further this century (he won the 2009 Hennessy off 174).
L'Homme Presse returns to winning ways @NewcastleRaces.— ITV Racing (@itvracing) November 26, 2022
He is victorious in the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase @NewcastleRaces.#ITVRacing | @VenetiaWRacing | @charliedeutsch2 pic.twitter.com/GRU0vf0gJe
There was also excellent action at Newbury on Saturday, headlined by the Coral Gold Cup which was won by Timeform top-rated Le Milos (155p from 152p) who showed that he was well in under a 4 lb penalty that he picked up for winning at Bangor on his first start for Dan Skelton.
Le Milos was all out to fend off Remastered (150 from 147), who had looked set to play a leading role in last year's race prior to falling four out, but the pair pulled six lengths clear of the third, Gericault Roque (141 from 141p), at the end of a truly-run race and, like the Rehearsal Chase, it appeals as being a strong piece of form. The Grand National has been nominated as a target for Le Milos who was largely progressive for his former yard and likely still has more to offer for Skelton.
Earlier on the Newbury card, McFabulous (remains 148p) took advantage of a disappointing display from Thyme Hill (145 from 145p) to land the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase. McFabulous, a comfortable winner on his chasing debut at Exeter, jumped better than Thyme Hill and readily quickened clear two out. Thyme Hill ballooned the first ditch and wasn't especially fluent afterwards, so it would be little surprise to see him given a break and return to hurdling.
The opening listed mares' novices' hurdle was won by an exciting prospect in Luccia (134P). The Nicky Henderson-trained Luccia won both starts in bumpers last season and put up the best performance by a filly or mare in the division when storming 17 lengths clear in a listed event at Sandown in March. She also looks likely to take high rank in the mares' novice hurdle division this term based on her five-and-a-half-length success on her hurdling debut at Newbury, where she coped better with the relative test of speed than might have expected considering how well she handled testing conditions in bumpers. She has the Timeform Large P to highlight she's capable of much better form when the situation demands it.
Henderson also introduced an exciting prospect at Newbury on Friday in the shape of Jet Powered (125p). Henderson tends to aim one of his better novices at this two-mile maiden hurdle - Buveur d'Air and Jonbon both feature on the roll of honour - and Jet Powered also looked something out of the ordinary as he readily drew 11 lengths clear of the runner-up, Ittack Blue, who was another expensive recruit from the pointing ranks. Like Luccia, Jet Powered was also given the Timeform Large P.
Henderson also bagged the feature race at Newbury on Friday with Champ (158 from 157) who just about managed to hold off the gallant Paisley Park (158 from 156) by a neck in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle. Champ had disappointed at Aintree when last seen in the spring but he has a fine record when fresh and bounced back to his best to narrowly prevail at the end of a contest in which he set a good gallop.
There were plenty of promising sorts on show in Ireland last weekend, with good cards taking place at Gowran Park on Saturday and Navan on Sunday..
The two-and-a-half mile beginners' chase at Gowran Park has an excellent roll of honour - it has been won by Laurina, Energumene and Bob Olinger for the last three years - and was won by another promising sort in Classic Getaway (150p) who beat stablemate Minella Cocooner (147p) by two and three-quarter lengths. Whatdeawant (118p) inherited a distant third after Journey With Me (145p) fell at the second-last when looking booked for a place, giving Willie Mullins a one-two-three.
Classic Getaway, a £570,000 purchase after easily winning his only start in points, was a bit hit-and-miss over hurdles last season but instantly showed better form over fences on Saturday and could improve further for a step up to three miles. Minella Cocooner was turned over at a short price but he too made an encouraging start over fences, racing without his usual hood and over a trip short of his optimum. He pecked on landing after the final fence but jumped soundly in the main and should build on this.
The two-mile novice hurdle on the card is also traditionally a strong affair - Douvan, Sharjah and Franco de Port have won it in the past - and Inothewayurthinkin (137p from 120p) looked potentially smart as he maintained his unbeaten record. Kalanisi Star (129p), a wide-margin winner on his bumper debut last season, also looked a good prospect on his hurdling debut in the two-mile maiden. He responded well to pressure and is bred to stay well, so should benefit from a step up in trip.
There was a shock in the Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan on Sunday as American Mike (131p from 136P) had to settle for second behind Dawn Rising (134 from 133p) in an eventful race that saw Affordale Fury (132p from 134p) come down at the last when still in the lead. Affordale Fury and American Mike got racing from a long way out but they were tiring on the approach to the final flight and it's like that the more conservatively-ridden Dawn Rising would have reeled in Affordale Fury had that one successfully cleared the obstacle.
American Mike's short-price defeat - he was a 2/7 favourite after impressing at Down Royal - was a setback for Gordon Elliott but the trainer still had a couple of winners on the card, including Fil Dor (151p) in the beginners' chase.
The four-year-old Fil Dor was in receipt of a generous 8 lb weight-for-age allowance and he made the most of it to see off Saint Roi (153p), a very smart type over hurdles who himself made a promising start over fences. Fil Dor, who was placed three times in Grade 1 juvenile hurdles last season, impressed with how accurately he jumped and how enthusiastically he travelled at Navan and he looks likely to develop into a high-class novice chaser. His four-year-old allowance will place him at an advantage in the early part of the season.
The opening juvenile hurdle at Navan is a race worth noting as there were some promising performances from horses with leading yards. It was won in impressive fashion by the Joseph O'Brien-trained Comfort Zone (120p) who quickened six lengths clear in taking style, but Tekao (106P), who like the winner is owned by JP McManus, also caught the eye with how well he travelled, looking the likely winner at the second-last on his first start for Willie Mullins before his effort flattened out.
Grangclare West (125P) also created a big impression at Navan, passing the post 13 lengths clear of some promising rivals in two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle. A £430,000 purchase after winning his sole start in points, Grangeclare West was an impressive winner of a bumper at Punchestown on his debut under Rules in May 2021. He was off the track until Sunday but evidently retains all his ability following that 18-month absence and remains an exciting prospect.
The big handicap on the card, the prestigious Troytown, was won by The Big Dog (157 from 148) who showed improved form to follow up his Munster National success. As a sound jumper who has plenty of experience in big fields and shapes like he'll stay marathon distances, The Big Dog has attributes which should stand him in good stead in the Grand National.
There was also a significant performance in France on Sunday as the Tom George-trained Il Est Francais (157p from 153p) extended his unbeaten record over hurdles to four, showing very smart form to land Auteuil's top prize for four-year-old hurdlers, the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier. A quick switch to chasing could be on the cards.