This week, in honour of the Cheltenham Festival, I have decided to write up one post per evening at 6pm, and it will be a new series within itself where I pick one race for the following day and I focus in on the history of the race. Past winners, records and hopefully new bits of information you and I may not even know! So, with that being said, let’s just get right into it.
The Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race ran on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival over 2 miles and 87 yards, and is for horses who are 4 years and older.
The first running of the Champion Hurdle took place on the 9th of March 1927. There were 4 runners and it was won by 8 lengths by the 11/10 favourite Blaris who was rode by George Duller for trainer Bill Payne and for owner Mrs H. Hollins at a time of 4 minutes and 13.6 seconds.
On the 1st of March 1932, there were 3 runners and the 4/5 favourite Insurance won by 12 lengths for jockey Ted Leader, trainer Basil Briscoe and owner Dorothy Paget in a time of 4 minutes 14.2 seconds. The following year, he was the first horse to successfully retain his crown. On the 7th of March 1933, Insurance won again as the 10/11 favourite out of 5 runners, this time winning by 3/4 of a length in a time of 4 minutes 37.6 seconds, this time with a different jockey on board, Billy Stott.
The next horse to successfully retain his crown 2 years in a row would be over 10 years later. National Spirit won the race firstly on the 12th of April 1947 by 1 length in a time of 4 minutes 03.8 seconds at 7/1 for jockey Danny Morgan, trainer Vic Smyth and owner Len Abelson, beating 13 opponents. Following it up with another victory on the 2nd of March 1948, winning by 2 lengths in a quicker time of 3 minutes 54.8 seconds. This time with Ron Smyth riding and beating 11 other competitors as the 6/4 favourite.
We then have Hatton’s Grace who successfully won the race 3 years in a row. Starting on the 7th of March 1949 winning by 6 lengths at 100/7 against 13 other competitors at a time of 4 minutes 0.6 seconds for jockey Aubrey Brabazon, trainer Vincent O’Brien and owner Mrs Harry Keogh. Followed up by another win on the 7th of March 1950, winning as the 5/2 favourite against 11 other competitors by 1 1/2 lengths in a slightly quicker time of 3 minutes, 59.6 seconds for the same jockey Aubrey Brabazon. We then move forward a year to the 6th of March 1951, where once again Hatton’s Grace won by 5 lengths at 4/1 this time under Tim Molony at a time of 4 minutes 11.2 seconds beating 7 other competitors.
Sir Ken then went on to do the same thing, winning on the 4th of March 1952 as the 3/1 favourite, the 3rd of March 1953 as the 2/5 favourite and the 2nd of March 1954 as the 4/9 favourite, all for jockey Tim Molony, trainer Willie Stephenson and owner Maurice Kingsley.
It would then be over 15 years before another horse did the same successfully. Persian War won on the 20th of March 1968 at 4/1 again on the 19th March 1969 as the 6/4 favourite and again for a third time on the 18th of March 1970 as the 5/4 favourite. All for jockey Jimmy Uttley, trainer Colin Davies and owner Henry Alper.
The next two years, the Champion Hurdle would be won by Bula. Firstly on the 18th of March 1971 as the 15/8 favourite then again on the 15th of March 1972 as the 8/11 favourite, both for jockey Paul Kelleway, trainer Fred Winter and owner Bill Edwards-Heathcote.
The next horse to win the Champion Hurdle twice, however not two years in a row, would be Comedy of Errors. He was only one of two horses to ever regain the Champion Hurdle title after losing it. Firstly on the 14th of March 1973, winning at 8/1 for jockey Bill Smith, trainer Fred Rimell and owner Ted Wheatley. On the 13th of March 1974, Comedy of Errors then came second as the 4/6 favourite behind Lanzarote (7/4) for jockey Richard Pitman, trainer Fred Winter and owner Lord Howard de Walden. The next year on the 12th of March 1975, Comedy of Errors then made a comeback and won as the 11/8 favourite, this time for jockey Ken White.
We then have Night Nurse, who won twice, once on the 17th of March 1976 as the 2/1 favourite and again on the 16th of March 1977 at 15/2. Both for jockey Paddy Broderick, trainer Peter Easterby and owner Reg Spencer.
The second placed horse in 1977, Monksfield then won twice in a row. Once on the 15th of March 1978 at 11/2 for jockey Tommy Kinane trainer Des McDonogh and owner Dr Michael Mangan followed up by another win on the 14th of March 1979 as the 9/4 favourite, this time for jockey Dessie Hughes.
The next two years were then won by Sea Pigeon, on the 11th of March 1980 at 13/2 for jockey Jonjo O’Neill, trainer Peter Easterby and owner Pat Muldoon. Then winning again on the 17th of March 1981 as the 7/4 favourite, this time for John Francome.
Another notable winner is Dawn Run who won on the 13th of March 1984, winning as the 4/5 favourite under Jonjo O’Neill for trainer Paddy Mullins and owner Charmian Hill. Dawn Run went on to win many races including the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2 years later.
The next winner to strike three times in three years is See You Then. Firstly on the 12th of March 1985 winning at 16/1, again on the 11th of March 1986 as the 5/6 favourite then again on the 17th of March as the 11/10 favourite, all for jockey Steve Smith Eccles, trainer Nicky Henderson and owner Stype Wood Stud.
The next notable winner to win the race 3 years in a row was Istabraq. He won on the 17th of March 1998 as the 3/1 favourite, again on the 16th of March 1999 as the 4/9 favourite then again on the 14th of March 2000 as the 8/15 favourite. All three times under Charlie Swan for trainer Aidan O’Brien for owner J.P. McManus.
The next horse to mention is Hardy Eustace who firstly won on the 16th of March 2004 at 33/1, then again the following year on the 15th of March 2005 this time as the 7/2 favourite. Both times for jockey Conor O’Dwyer, trainer Dessie Hughes and owner Laurence Byrne.
Now we move on to Hurricane Fly, who is only the second of 2 horses to regain his Champion Hurdle title after losing it. His first win coming on the 15th of March 2011 as the 11/4 favourite. Then on the 13th of March 2012, he finished third as the 4/6 favourite behind winner Rock On Ruby (11/1) and second place Overturn (9/2). Then on the 12th of March 2013, he regained his title, this time winning as the 13/8 favourite. Both times winning for jockey Ruby Walsh, trainer Willie Mullins and owner Creighton / Boyd.
We then have winners such as Faugheen (4/5F in 2015) and Annie Power (5/2F in 2016), both for Ruby Walsh, Willie Mullins and Susannah Ricci.
The next horse to win the Champion Hurdle twice in a row was Buveur d’Air who successfully won for the first time on the 14th of March 2017 at 5/1 for Noel Fehily, trainer Nicky Henderson and owner J.P. McManus. In his second win, he won on the 13th of March 2018 as the 4/6 favourite, this time under Barry Geraghty.
On the 12th of March 2019, J.P. McManus had another win, this time Espoir d’Allen at 16/1 for jockey Mark Walsh and trainer Gavin Cromwell. Followed up by another winner on the 10th of March 2020, Epatante as the 2/1 favourite, this time for jockey Barry Geraghty and trainer Nicky Henderson.
Things to note: In the 1947 running of the Champion Hurdle, it was finally run on the 12th of April after being postponed twice due to winter snows. In 1931, the race was abandoned totally due to frost. In 1943 an 1944, the race was not run due to World War 2. And then in 2001, the running was cancelled due to a foot and mouth crisis, instead a substitute race was run at Sandown.
Now onto some interesting statistics and records. The 2008 winner Katchit and 2019 winner Espoir d’Allen are the only horses who were 5 years old to win since See You Then in 1985, in fact, 13 of the past 16 winners were aged between 6 and 8 years old. Extended on from that, only four horses over the age of 8 have won the race since 1951, the most recent one was Hurricane Fly who was aged 9 when winning in 2013.
Another interesting fact is that 11 of the past 19 winners have been trained in Ireland and 19 of the last 28 winners had actually won at Cheltenham before. 14 of the past 18 winners had raced in the previous 7 weeks and 24 of the last 27 winners were in the top 6 of the betting. Also worth mentioning that 31 of the past 37 winners won the last time out.
On to the most successful horses in the race, winning 3 times each:
Hatton’s Grace – 1949, 1950 and 1951
Sir Ken – 1952, 1953 and 1954
Persian War – 1968, 1969 and 1970
See You Then – 1985, 1986 and 1987
Istabraq – 1998, 1999 and 2000
Now onto the most successful jockeys, all with 4 wins each:
Tim Molony – Hatton’s Grace (1951) & Sir Ken (1952, 1953 and 1954)
Ruby Walsh – Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013), Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016)
Barry Geraghty – Punjabi (2009), Jezki (2014), Buveur D’Air (2018) and Epatante (2020)
The leading trainer in the race is Nicky Henderson who has had 8 wins in the Champion Hurdle, those being: See You Then (1985, 1986 & 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur D’Air (2017 & 2018) and Epatante (2020).
With the leading owner being J.P. McManus who has had 9 wins, those being: Istabraq (1998, 1999 & 2000), Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014), Buveur D’Air (2017 & 2018), Espoir d’Allen (2019) and Epatante (2020).
So there we have it, the history of the Champion Hurdle. I, for once, cannot wait for tomorrow’s run of the Champion Hurdle and the Festival to start as a whole, so I enjoyed looking through the history of the race. I hope you all enjoyed reading and hopefully you have all learned something new, I know I did.
I shall see you all tomorrow night at the same time of 6pm for The History of the Queen Mother Champion Chase!