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Champion Hurdle memories - Six of the best renewals of Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle

Jezki (left) denies My Tent Or Yours in the 2014 Champion Hurdle.

Brian Healy takes a walk down memory lane and recalls his six favourite Champion Hurdle renewals from years past.

The feature race of the first day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle, which typically fills the fourth race spot on a cracking opening day of action at the greatest show on turf.

There have been many great champions down through the years since the race was first run back in 1927 where Bill Payne’s Blaris ran out the winner. Several horses have won the race more than once, while leading trainer Nicky Henderson has won seven renewals, notably with triple-winner See You Then, and the feat could be matched should Buver D’air go on to win again in March’s renewal.

Here, Racingtips.com writer Brian Healy recalls his own top six Champion Hurdle renewals as he looks back on a historic and iconic race.

NIGHT NURSE (1977)


Peter Easterby’s charge had won the Champion Hurdle twelve months previously, beating a strong field of rivals in the process; but the 1977 renewal was arguably an even stronger field of runners with the likes of Birds Nest, Monksfield, Lanzarote, Comedy Of Errors and Sea Pigeon all in opposition against the defending champion.

Turning into the straight, it looked as if Peter Easterby’s charge might be swallowed up and none was going better than Monksfield on the run to the last. However, Night Nurse would jump the last narrowly in front, and with Monksfield landing in a heap, Paddy Broderick and Night Nurse were able to steal a length on their rivals which proved crucial.

Staying on strongly up the run-in, Peter O’Sullevan called the son of Falcon as the winner fully one hundred yards from the line as he kept Monksfield at bay with the Irish challenger never quite able to get on terms.



SEA PIGEON (1981)


It had appeared that Peter Easterbys’ chance of Champion Hurdle glory had passed him by prior to winning as a ten-year old with a defeat of old rival Monksfield in 1980; but it could be the second of his two Champion Hurdle crowns which is the better of the two with John Francome having taken the reins on board Peter Easterby’s eleven-year old with regular jockey Jonjo O’Neill sidelined through injury.

Taken along at a good pace by Melodon, Francome still had a tight hold on his veteran charge as they turned into the straight and faced up to the final obstacle where Pollardstown had taken up the running when the long-time leader Melodon began to tread water. 

Travelling strongly, Sea Pigeon jumped the last like it was a fence, but still with plenty in the tank on the run to the line Francome only had to push out him out under hands and heels to get the better of the brave Pollardstown and third-placed Daring Run.

In doing so he joined Hatton’s Grace in an exclusive club as the only dual-winners of the Champions Hurdle sporting double-digit ages; and to date they remain the only pair to have achieved the feat.



KRIBENSIS (1990)


A very rare runner over obstacles for owner Sheikh Mohammed and trainer Sir Michael Stoute, the son of Henbit became the first horse to win the Hurdling Triple Crown when claiming victories in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle and Champion Hurdle during the 1989/90 season.

Having won the previous season’s Triumph Hurdle - one of a select few to have done the Triumph/Champion Hurdle double - the then six-year old under Richard Dunwoody had looked under pressure jumping the second last; but he found an extra gear and turning into the straight he was hard on the heels of the leaders.

Jumping the last big and bold, he ran on strongly under a power-packed Richard Dunwoody to hold off Nomadic Way and Past Glories.



ISTABRAQ (1998)


Unbeaten in the season leading up to the first of his three Champion Hurdle successes, Aidan O’Brien’s charge was sent off 3/1 favourite for the big race and he never looked to be in any trouble as he raced prominently before jumping to the front at the third last having been travelling strongly.

Swan gradually wound things up on the run to the second last, jumping two lengths clear, and turning in to face the last hurdle he quickened clear to score an impressive wide margin success, beating off a high quality field of rivals.

When he got to the front, there was only going to be one winner and he left his rivals toiling behind him as he scored a bloodless victory and announce his arrival on the greatest stage.



HARDY EUSTACE (2005)


Having won the previous year’s Champion Hurdle at odds of 33/1, Eddie Harty’s charge was sent off at just 7/2 to defend his crown.

Conor O’Dwyer set out to make all, and turning into the straight and facing up to the final hurdle he was still in front.

However, PaulCarberry and Harchibald were cruising in behind, and with three in a line jumping the last - Brave Inca, Harchibald and Hardy Eustace - it appeared a matter of how far for Harchibald and Carberry as the jockey remained motionless in the saddle as either side Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace were flat out.

With 100 yards to go, Carberry finally let his mount go, but there was no response and despite his urgings Harchibald would not go past the tenacious Hardy Eustace who kept finding for O’Dwyer and cross the line in front for a second Champion Hurdle crown.

It remains to this day one of the most talked about incidents in Champion Hurdle history.



JEZKI (2014)


Dual-Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly was amongst the field for a cracking renewal which also included the likes of My Tent Or Yours, The New One and the ill-fated Our Conor who had blitzed rivals in the previous season’s Triumph Hurdle.

Jezki, one of three runners in the race to sport the JP McManus silks had largely flown under the radar during the season, being sent off at odds of 9/1 and ridden by Barry Geraghty. 

Tracking firstly Our Conor - who crashed out at the third - and then Captain Cee Bee with Hurricane Fly for company, My Tent Or Yours loomed large on the run to the second last. Jezki rose slightly in front at the second last and turning in he was challenged on both sides by Hurricane Fly and My Tent or Yours.

Still holding a slender advantage over the last, Hurricane Fly was the first to accept defeat; but My Tent Or Yours and AP McCoy would throw everything at Jessica Harrington’s star to no avail, and Jezki crossed the line a neck to the good.



Of course, it is hard to restrict a list such as this to just six fleeting memories, no matter how good they may be; the Champion Hurdle invariably doesn't disappoint and there are many other classic renewals which could easily have featured. Annie Power's exhilarating victory in 2016, or Make A Stand's pillar-to-post success in 1997; even Flakey Dove's 1994 win to become only the second mare to win the Champion Hurdle are just some other highlights of a fantastic race.
 

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Champion Hurdle memories - Six of the best renewals of Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle

Brian Healy takes a walk down memory lane and recalls his six favourite Champion Hurdle renewals from years past.

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