Constitution Hill exploded onto the hurdling scene last season, announcing himself as an unbeaten superstar by dominating his rivals to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on just his third career start. Still only a five-year-old, Nicky Henderson's charge has already been likened to great stable predecessors like Buveur D'Air and Altior. But Constitution Hill's build-up to defending his Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March has been disrupted after an unsatisfactory scope ruled him out of a planned appearance at the track's Trials Day meeting.

Henderson had penciled in the Unibet Hurdle, formerly known as the International, on January 27 as Constitution Hill's final Cheltenham warm-up before bidding for back-to-back festival victories. But a routine scope last week revealed an issue that a follow-up scope on Wednesday failed to resolve in time for Trials Day. Henderson insisted the setback would not affect Constitution Hill's Champion Hurdle defense, although he will now head straight to the big one without another run.

It is far from ideal preparation for a horse seeking to cement his status as one of the most exciting hurdlers in training. Constitution Hill blitzed his rivals in the Supreme last March, forging 12 lengths clear on the run-in to trigger talk of him potentially becoming the next unbeatable staying hurdler. He has done little to dampen the hype with two effortless Grade 1 victories already this season.

After cruising home by eight lengths on his reappearance in Newcastle's Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Constitution Hill delivered a typically dominant display when stepping up in trip to win Kempton's Christmas Hurdle in December. The imperious form saw his Champion Hurdle odds shrink to an incredibly skinny 1/3 as he was billed as unbeatable.

But Henderson will no longer have the luxury of giving his stable superstar another pre-festival racecourse gallop after the unsatisfactory scope. It casts a slight shadow over Constitution Hill's previously flawless preparation as Henderson tries to keep him primed for March without that vital extra run. Ground conditions had already robbed Constitution Hill of an intended appearance in Newcastle's Fighting Fifth back in November too.

Yet Henderson emphasized the horse would continue light exercise and resume his Champion Hurdle preparation once given the all-clear after a fortnight. There seems no immediate cause for alarm, but Constitution Hill's absence from Trials Day undoubtedly takes away some gloss from the meeting. He was set to be one of the main attractions on a stellar card.

With the hottest hurdler in training missing, other contenders may now reconsider entries for the £125,000 Grade 2. Most notably, JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Burdett Road could take up the option after being given the Unibet Hurdle as a potential alternative target by trainer James Owen. Although still a juvenile, Burdett Road would receive a generous weight allowance.

The Royal Ascot winner is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, completing his prep with an authoritative victory at Cheltenham in November. Owen has stressed the Triumph is still his number one festival aim but will keep all options open, with a tilt at the Unibet Hurdle now seeming more appealing. A clash between Burdett Road and Constitution Hill would have been a race for the ages.

But although missing out on that mouthwatering showdown is disappointing, connections will make the right call in the interests of Constitution Hill. His welfare is paramount and Henderson's priority will be getting the chaser fit and firing in time to defend his crown in March. Constitution Hill already looks a hurdler for the ages despite his tender years. The loss of another run is far from ideal but is surely only a minor bump in the road.

Having already blitzed top-level fields this term, he has proven time and again he needs little preparation to perform at his scintillating best. Constitution Hill looked every inch a champion in waiting throughout his novice campaign. The way he motored clear of stablemate Jonbon, who dominated his own Supreme prep, marked the five-year-old as the clear pick of that exceptional 2021 bumper crop.

Jonbon has since excelled over fences but Constitution Hill always looked the bespoke hurdler. He combines a seemingly effortless cruising speed with the ability to put races to bed in a matter of strides. The Champion Hurdle often exposes pretenders but Constitution Hill is the real deal and already sets the standard in this sphere.

Even without the benefit of his intended Trials Day run, Constitution Hill will almost certainly arrive at Cheltenham primed to pick up where he left off 12 months ago. The brilliance he displayed in destroying opponents like final fence faller Epatante reads even better in hindsight, with most rivals going on to win at graded level since.

He achieved the rare feat of living up to sky-high expectations. Back Constitution Hill to scale even greater heights by sealing Champion Hurdle glory with the minimum of fuss. The loss of the Unibet assignment makes his preparation less polished but he oozes such class that it should prove only a minor inconvenience.

Henderson knows exactly what it takes to ready a champion for Cheltenham, having masterminded Altior's unbeaten run there and Buveur D'Air consecutive Champion Hurdle wins. In Constitution Hill, he trains an equine star capable of following in their hoofprints. The day the five-year-old is beaten over timber feels a long way off.

Even mighty stablemate Buveur D'Air failed to lay a glove on him on the gallops last term. Constitution Hill is bred for brilliance as a sibling to top-class chasers Might Bite and Finian's Oscar. The Champion Hurdle crown that still eludes Henderson seems his destiny this year and beyond.

Of course, Trials Day could provide clues for potential dangers to his crown. But Constitution Hill dominates the two-mile hurdling ranks and already has ample graded form in the book this term. It will take an almighty effort to topple him if he turns up fit and healthy in March.

Epatante found Constitution Hill in a different league when his final flight denied a true showdown last season. She has dropped back to mares' company this term along with 2021 winner Honeysuckle, leaving the Champion wide open. 

The two-mile hurdle division is thriving this season, with unbeaten mare Love Envoi emerging as a major Triumph Hurdle contender. But Constitution Hill remains the class act and benchmark. Despite losing his ideal warmup with the aborted Unibet Hurdle run, he is still the one to beat.

Recent Champions like Buveur D'Air and Espoir D'Allen have shown the value of seasoning over time. Constitution Hill now aims to follow their example by becoming an elite, dominant hurdling force for years to come. The raw potential is certainly there.

Few novices have announced themselves so emphatically at the highest level since the great Istabraq. The lofty comparisons to such legends already made are fully merited after just five hurdling starts. Defending his Champion Hurdle crown again would cement his reputation.

Henderson will do everything to have Constitution Hill at his brilliant best for Cheltenham. His overflowing talent should overcome the disrupted preparation. He has already demolished top hurdlers with ease.

Expect Constitution Hill to continue his emergence as jumps racing's new superstar. He can blow away the Champion field and provide further evidence he could achieve true greatness over hurdles.