The next… those two words are the most wearisome and unhelpful in any sport.
A young footballer emerges with a flurry of goals and spectacular performances, and there will be a desperation to anoint him as ‘the next Lionel Messi’.
A young golfer comes out of the pack with a blitz of birdies and immediately Tiger Woods will be used as a point of comparison.
It is so unnecessary. Messi, Woods… broaden it to include figures such as Ben Stokes, Max Verstappen, Roger Federer and Antoine Dupont. They stand out in their sports because their talents are unique, their body of work impossible to imitate or replicate.
The same is true in horseracing. In the giddy aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival, when you see horses galloping relentlessly up that unforgiving hill in the Gold Cup, you will hear shouts that you have seen the successor to Kauto Star or the second coming of Arkle.
The excitement surrounding the future of Galopin Des Champs was contagious in March
Kauto Star was the horse that could do it all – right or left-handers, flat or undulating, he took everything as he found it
That was certainly the case in March. When Paul Townend loomed into view on the descent to the third-last fence, then proceeded to bound away from his pursuers, the excitement about what Galopin Des Champs might go on to achieve was contagious.
At that point, Galopin Des Champs had won his first six completed starts over fences by a combined 77 lengths, and five of those contests had been at Grade One level.
Certainly he was a superstar in the making but the next Kauto Star? A pull of those particular reins would have been prudent.
Look at what has happened since: Galopin Des Champs has been beaten twice — both times at Punchestown, both times by the progressive Fastorslow — and last Sunday’s defeat in the John Durkan Chase, as the 1-2 favourite, left his trainer Willie Mullins utterly deflated.
If any trainer can coax a response from a horse seemingly in the doldrums, it is Mullins, but seeing the sheen removed from Galopin Des Champs’ reputation only serves to remind us what an extraordinary horse Kauto Star was for Paul Nicholls.
From two miles around Sandown Park to three-and-a-quarter miles around Cheltenham, with trips to Aintree, Newbury, Kempton, Haydock and Down Royal, this was the horse who could do it all. Right or left-handed racecourses, flat or undulating tracks, Kauto took everything as he found it.
He did things that no other animal has ever done: five King George VI chases, four Betfair Chases, reclaiming his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown in 2009 after surrendering it briefly to his incredible bruiser of a stablemate Denman — who was another one-off.
Yes, there were days when he was beaten, but his consistency and durability over seven years were miraculous. He ran in six consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, from 2007 to 2012, and that record alone was something off the scale.
Constitution Hill has also been burdened with a similar tag – compared to three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabrag
For some horses, one experience of the ferocity and intensity of jump racing’s blue-riband event can be enough and until Galopin Des Champs wins again, there will be a question as to whether that superlative effort eight months ago left a mark on him.
To be clear, this is not denigrating the reigning Cheltenham champion. Far from it. This is simply underlining why it should never be expected that horses only have to turn up to win.
In any form of horseracing, there is no such thing as a certainty — and that brings us neatly to Constitution Hill.
Nicky Henderson’s pride and joy is another to have been burdened with the tag ‘the next’ — for Constitution Hill is three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq incarnate. He might end up being as dominant over hurdles as the great Olympian Ed Moses once was.
But… and there must be a ‘but’, Constitution Hill begins his season at Newcastle on Saturday.
He will be sent off at prohibitive odds to land the Fighting Fifth Hurdle for the second year in succession, though Henderson will be taking nothing for granted. ‘We are the curator of this extraordinary animal that is doing stupid things,’ Henderson told this column recently.
‘We’ve now got to get him back to the same situation he was in last year — and pray to God that nothing goes wrong!
Galopin Des Champ’s (left) starburst quickly disappeared after a disappointing follow-up to initial success
Constitution Hill begins his season at Newcastle on Saturday but even if he should win don’t think for one minute everything is all so easy
‘Where he’s been lucky, he’s had two seasons without one day off. Well, that’s unheard of in a horse’s life. One day something’s going to go wrong. It has to.
‘We know it. And the bad days are bloody awful. There are shocking things that come and bite you. Horses don’t always come back.’
If Constitution Hill starts to draw effortlessly away up Newcastle’s long straight, looking like everything is all so easy, don’t for one minute think that is the case. Think of the starburst around Galopin Des Champs and how quickly the sparkle can disappear.
Also remember there is no need to make a comparison. Simply enjoy these animals for what they are: in time, they could have their own unique place in the pantheon.
HERE’S A DREAM FOR 2024…
Those who set their alarms for the crack of dawn on Sunday will not have regretted the early wake-up for a single second.
To watch Equinox move serenely away from a quality field in the Japan Cup was mesmerising. Speculation rages that the colt John Gosden described as ‘looking like a Stubbs painting’ will be retired to stud.
He is the best middle-distance horse in the world and has achieved so much, it is little wonder that his owners want to protect him.
But until confirmation arrives, here’s a dream for 2024: Equinox and Auguste Rodin take each other on, possibly in the Japan Cup.
Now that, really, would be an occasion to savour. Aidan O’Brien has never shirked a challenge. Will Equinox’s connections be similarly bold?
Watching Equinox move serenely away from a quality field in the Japan Cup was mesmerising
GOOD DEEDS DON’T GO UNNOTICED
Never think good deeds go unnoticed. Paddy Brennan partnered a smart winner at Haydock on Saturday, Kamsinas for his boss Fergal O’Brien in a competitive Grade Two Novice Hurdle.
Usually the first thought in such circumstances would be what might be on the agenda next. Not a bit of it.
Brennan made it clear that every penny of his winning percentage of the £21,790 first prize was going to stricken fellow jockey Graham Lee. The strength of the bonds in this industry never ceases to inspire.