Festival throwback: Relive Irish success in the Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham's hurdling showpiece has proved a rich hunting ground for Irish horses

Friday, March 03, 2023
Amazing scenes in Cheltenham's parade ring after Istabraq's 2000 Champion Hurdle win - his third success in the race

Amazing scenes in Cheltenham's parade ring after Istabraq's 2000 Champion Hurdle win - his third success in the race

The most prestigious hurdle in National Hunt racing has been won by some of the greatest names in the sport - mythical figures in Irish sport such as Hatton's Grace, Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Honeysuckle.

Distel, trained by Charles Rogers, was the first Irish winner of the race but many others have followed, with Jonjo O'Neill's victory on Dawn Run (the only horse to graduate from this race to Gold Cup success) in 1984 particularly special.

Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have won the race four times and JP McManus's famous green and gold colours have been carried to victory on nine different occasions - more than any other owner. 

Rachael Blackmore's first victory on Honeysuckle in 2021 saw her become the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle and she repeated her victory a year later but there will be a new name on the trophy this time out, with the reigning champion set for the Mares' Hurdle. Willie Mullins' State Man appears best placed to challenge Nicky Henderson's so far all-conquering Constitution Hill.

Honeysuckle, 2021 & 2022

Honeysuckle saw history made when Blackmore entered the winners enclosure two years ago and the great mare followed in the footsteps of the likes of Buveur d'Air, Hardy Eustace and Istabraq to win triumph in consecutive years.

Honeysuckle quickly made a name for herself, winning her first seven races, before defeating odds-on favourite Benie Des Dieux in the 2020 edition of the Mares' Hurdle for a first Cheltenham triumph.

A year later and still unbeaten after 11 races, Henry de Bromhead's star took down 2020 runner-up Sharjah to claim the first of her two Champion Hurdle triumphs when defeating Willie Mullins' horse by over six lengths.


By the team she returned to defend her crown at Prestbury Park in 2022, she was a true legend, winning the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and still unbeaten.

At Cheltenham, she made it 15 straight wins and joined illustrious company as a two-time Champion Hurdle winner, beating Epatante by three-and-a-half lengths to further etch her name in Festival folklore.

Hurricane Fly, 2011 & 2013

Two-time winner Hurricane Fly held the world record for most Grade One victories until Australian wonder mare Winx came along and snatched it.

Originally bred to race on the flat, Hurricane Fly won twice in ten races before being switched to the training talents of Willie Mullins.

And the rest, with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, is history.

A first Champion Hurdle in 2011 was followed by a shock third place 12 months later. However, he was to became the first horse in 38 years to regain the title in 2013.

Asked to describe the horse in three words, Walsh replied: "Guts, determination and stamina."

READ: Festival throwback: Relive Irish success in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle

READ: Festival throwback: Relive Irish success in the Arkle Challenge Trophy

Istabraq, 1998, 1999 & 2000

No horse has ever won the Champion Hurdle four times and the debate about whether Istabraq would have done it will rage on. He was already a three-time winner heading into the 2001 Festival, which was called off due to foot and mouth.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Istabraq won his three titles by nearly 20 lengths and when he returned to Prestbury Park in 2002, he was a shadow of his former self, pulling up after the second hurdle in heart-breaking fashion, only to be welcomed back to the parade ring with heartwarming applause.

READ: Remembering John Durkan, the man who discovered Istabraq

Hatton's Grace, 1949, 1950 & 1951

This was the horse that gave Vincent O'Brien the foundation to build his legend. 

He beat two-time winner National Spirit to win the first of his three Champion Hurdle in 1949 and became the first 11-year old to win the race in 1951. Sea Pigeon, the 1981, is the only one since.

READ: Relive Irish success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Check out our Road to Cheltenham microsite with the best of the Irish challenge at the Festival

This is my greatest moment in racing, but I was almost frightened to look until Istabraq had cleared the last. I have done the planning with this horse, but Aidan has trained him to perfection and Charlie rode the perfect race.
- Istabraq owner JP McManus after the 1998 Champion Hurdle