GBI RACING

From Hatton’s Grace to Istabraq: 5 triple winners of the Champion Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle trophy

Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air bids to claim a third Champion Hurdle victory at Cheltenham on Tuesday. Should he pull of the feat in the two-mile championship, he would join an elite band of hat-trick scorers in the Festival feature:

Hatton’s Grace (1949-51)

Vincent O'Brien trained Hatton's Grace to win three Champion Hurdles
Vincent O’Brien trained Hatton’s Grace to win three Champion Hurdles (PA)

The first of the triple winners, Hatton’s Grace dominated the race between 1949 and 1951 and helped kick-start the legend that became Vincent O’Brien. The nine-year-old dethroned dual winner National Spirit – a horse he would have a famous rivalry with – to claim his first Champion Hurdle, then added a little postscript to his name when he became became the first 11-year-old to win the race in 1951, with the only other being Sea Pigeon in 1981.

Sir Ken (1952-54)

Sir Ken with trainer Willie Stephenson
Sir Ken with trainer Willie Stephenson (PA)

French-bred Sir Ken arrived at Cheltenham in 1952 with eight wins in as many starts in Britain and the five-year-old showed no respect for his elders as he put former champions Hatton’s Grace and National Spirit firmly in their place. Trained by Willie Stephenson, Sir Ken was a two-length winner over Noholme that year and dominated the division in becoming the second Champion Hurdle hat-trick hero.

Persian War (1968-70)

Persian War on his way to victory at Cheltenham
Persian War on his way to victory at Cheltenham (PA)

The 1968 renewal of the Champion Hurdle was widely regarded as the best for years, but Persian War made short work of the classy field for Chepstow trainer Colin Davies. The following year he recovered from a fractured femur in the early part of the campaign to win again, while he defied a string of poor results to bring up his treble in 1970. He run was ended the following year when Bula, himself an eventual dual winner, claimed the prize.

See You Then (1985-87)

See You Then pictured after his second Champion Hurdle win
See You Then pictured after his second Champion Hurdle win (PA)

Dubbed ‘See You When’ by some wags due his infrequent racecourse outings, See You Then’s management by Nicky Henderson was really quite a triumph as he became the first triple winner for many a year. A notoriously fragile individual, See You Then had only four outings before taking his first Festival crown, and won his second title on just his second start of the campaign. See You Then reappeared just 11 days before Cheltenham in 1987, winning at Haydock en route to a glorious hat-trick at Prestbury Park.

Istabraq (1998-2000)

Istabraq and Charlie Swan jump the last at Cheltenham
Istabraq and Charlie Swan jump the last at Cheltenham (David Jones/PA)

If ever a horse looked likely to win four Champion Hurdles, it was Istabraq. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Istabraq was all class, winning his three titles by an aggregate of 19 and a half lengths, with his initial 12-length rout in 1998 providing the stand-out moment. He looked all set to add a fourth in 2001 after a thoroughly convincing Irish Champion Hurdle verdict, but foot and mouth robbed him of the chance. Istabraq returned in 2002, but was a shadow of his former self, pulling up after the second hurdle, to heartwarming applause from the crowd.

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