Remembering those who did the Champion Hurdle double at Leopardstown and Cheltenham

From Hatton's Grace to Hurricane Fly, six horses that have earned their place in history

Friday, January 24, 2020
Five alive as Ruby Walsh helps Hurricane Fly to a record fifth Irish Champion Hurdle win in 2015

Five alive as Ruby Walsh helps Hurricane Fly to a record fifth Irish Champion Hurdle win in 2015

They say winning is a habit, it's fair to also say that is easier said than done, writes James Toney.

Only six horses have completed the Champion Hurdle double in the same season - the task potentially facing Henry de Bromhead's super star Honeysuckle in the weeks ahead.

The classy mare - unbeaten in six starts - will line up in the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle on February 1st before her trainer decides on her Festival target, one of the biggest talking points in upcoming preview nights.

The Mares' Hurdle remains an option but another victory and the clamour to run in the first day's championship showpiece could get louder and louder.

Other winners of the Irish Champion Hurdle - from the sensational Flyingbolt to outstanding chasers L’Escargot and Captain Christy and the ever-popular Faugheen have all graduated to big successes but here we look back on the horses to do the double in the same season.

Hurricane Fly (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

No trainer has won more Irish Champion Hurdles than Willie Mullins - six and counting. Hurricane Fly won a remarkable five of them in the race’s longest streak of dominance.

Unstoppable in the race between 2011 and 2015, no wonder his trainer called him the 'horse of a generation'. His five wins were delivered by a total of 20 lengths - and in most cases he was easing down with the prize in the bank. 

In a career of highlights, it'll be always be 2013 that stands out. Hurricane Fly had failed to defend his Champion Hurdle crown one year earlier, despite being sent off an odds-on favourite but how he put that right.

A brilliant win at Leopardstown, when he held off Our Conor in a tight finish, was followed by a stunning Festival win, Ruby Walsh piloting him to regain his crown - the first horse in 38 years to do so.

"He showed another side to him today and that was guts," said Walsh.

Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001)

Few horses made their mark on racing's hurdling division quite like Istabraq, a grandson of the Triple Crown winning and Hollywood adored Secretariat.

He won the Irish Champion Hurdle four times between 1998 and 2001 and also claimed a hat-trick in the equivalent Cheltenham race and who knows what would have happened in 2001 had it not been for the foot and mouth outbreak that cancelled the Festival.

He was trained by then rising star Aidan O'Brien, sported the green-and-gold-hooped racing colours silks of JP McManus and ridden by Charlie Swan - who delayed his retirement to ride the horse to win after win.

The Istabraq story is one for the ages with cheers and tears in equal measure.

And nowhere was this more in evidence than when Istabraq won the 1998 Irish Champion Hurdle, just four days after John Durkan - the man who discovered the horse - had tragically been claimed by leukaemia aged just 31.

"He has more guts than class, and that’s what you need," he'd famously said.

READ: Remembering John Durkan, the man who discovered Istabraq

Collier Bay (1996)

Originally sent training with John Gosden, Collier Bay soon switched to jumps racing with Jim Old and provided the English trainer with his greatest days.

He'd won the Imperial Cup at Sandown in 1995 but first stepped up to grade one company with his Irish Champion Hurdle win - taking on the best of Ireland at level weights and emerging a winner by the narrowest of margins for jockey Jamie Osborne.

Just a few weeks later, he tracked leaders around Cheltenham before charging up the famous hill under the charge of Graham Bradley, Osborne electing to put his services elsewhere.

"I went past Jamie and he let me have a few expletives when he realised he had chosen the wrong one. He said bleep, bleep, bleep. After the last I didn't look back and I've no idea how much I won by," recalled Bradley.

Dawn Run (1984)

Dawn Run’s place in the pantheon of legend has long been secure as the only horse to win the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

The mare is also unique in completing the English, Irish and French Champion Hurdle treble, winning at both Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Auteil in her unstoppable 1984 season.

Trained by Paddy Mullins and ridden by Jonjo O'Neill, Dawn Run was only the second mare to win the Champion Hurdle and her statue stands at the parade ring at Cheltenham, just opposite Arkle.

Winning Fair (1963)

Trained by County Tipperary's George Spencer, the father of former Champion Jockey and multiple classic winning Jamie, Winning Fair completed the Champion Hurdle double either side of the Irish Sea in 1963.

The season was remembered for a deep freeze in January and February, which meant only one meeting was possible between Boxing Day and the Cheltenham Festival.

Winning Fair claimed the Festival showpiece under amateur Alan Lillingston with the press fascinated by the fact he only had one eye.

"If he had two ****ing eyes he would have won the ****ing Derby," his trainer famously said.

Hatton's Grace (1950)

Honeysuckle destroyed rivals to win the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last December, defying ratings to claim the scalps of Apple's Jade, Bacardys and Penhill and underline her Cheltenham credentials.

Hatton's Grace - trained by the legendary Vincent O'Brien - was the first horse to win the Irish Champion Hurdle in 1950 and also the first to follow up success at Leopardstown with a win at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sent off favourite at Prestbury Park, jockey Aubrey Brabazon rode the perfect race to score a battling victory in a one and a half length win, the second of three consecutive wins at the meeting.

From Flyingbolt to Istabraq, L’Escargot to Hurricane Fly, Hatton's Grace to Dawn Run, the Irish Champion Hurdle has been a key chapter in the story of many racing legends since 1950.

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