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Six of the best that Hurricane aims to fly past

Richard Forristal

Today, Hurricane Fly will bid to further embellish his already stellar legacy in the Stan James Champion Hurdle by joining an elite five-strong realm of three-time victors.

Willie Mullins' diminutive Grade One-winning superstar colossus is the latest distinguished name to grace the roll of honour as a multiple winner of the prestigious two-miler, emulating Comedy Of Errors (1973 and 1975) by reclaiming his crown last year.

If the 10-year-old were to join an even loftier pantheon of all-time greats, he would become the first to complete an interrupted hat-trick, and this time he is bidding to close a 33-year gap since Sea Pigeon was the last to win aged 10 or older. Given the fierce standard of opposition, it is an enormous ask, though Hurricane Fly was a latecomer to the Festival, having missed his first two dates due to injury.

That might yet stand to him, with an interesting precedent in Hatton's Grace, which didn't win his first until he was nine.

Here are six of the best repeat winners since Vincent O'Brien's original triple champion achieved that landmark first Irish success.

We've excluded Hurricane Fly simply because his destiny cannot yet be fully quantified, with Bula the only other to lose out in that time. Something had to give.

1. Istabraq (1998-2000)

Few could have envisaged the fate that lay in store for Istabraq when he was sent to Aidan O'Brien after John Durkan, the ambitious 31-year-old who advised his purchase on JP McManus's behalf, fell ill with leukaemia. The plan was for Durkan to resume his training once he recovered from treatment, something that tragically never happened. He died two months before Istabraq's first Champion Hurdle rout in 1998, so the exquisite hurdler's entire career was laced with poignancy.

Istabraq's cumulative winning distance in the Champion Hurdle was a yawning 19.5 lengths. Successful in 23 of his 29 hurdles, he and Charlie Swan formed one of the most iconic partnerships of modern times, though they were cruelly denied the chance to emulate Golden Miller's five Festival wins when the meeting was lost to Foot and Mouth in 2001.

When Istabraq (pictured right) eventually got the opportunity 12 months later at 10 years of age, he was a shadow of his sublime old self. Swan promptly pulled him up after jumping two flights, but his glorious legacy is untarnished.

2. Night Nurse (1976–77)

Night Nurse was in his pomp during hurdling's glory days. Peter Easterby's colossus numbered Lanzarote and Comedy Of Errors – holders of three previous crowns – among his victims when he stormed to a first Champion Hurdle victory in 1976.

His successful defence came about in an even more vintage renewal, with subsequent dual winners Monksfield and Sea Pigeon proving no match for Paddy Broderick's illustrious partner. Night Nurse enhanced his legend over fences, finishing second to stable-mate Little Owl in the 1981 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

3. Persian War (1968-1970)

Persian War was a triple Champion Hurdle winner with a pugilistic bent. Twice he hit his head off a hurdle, losing two teeth the first time and then left prostrate on the ground the second. After one of his many forays to France, at his eccentric owner Henry Alper's behest, he joined Colin Davies.

The shrewd handler saddled him to three successive Champion Hurdle victories on ground ranging from firm to heavy. With Alper insisting on racing Persian War on the Flat during the summer, he was a remarkably tough horse that never got a break, even recovering from a fractured femur that he suffered when he fell on the level at Worcester the season after his first Champion success.

He struggled with breathing problems as he got older, to the extent that his final Champion Hurdle coup in 1970 was his only win that term. Moved to Arthur Pitt subsequently, Persian War lost masses of blood during surgery to remove a tooth, yet his iron constitution still saw him finish second to Bula in the feature at Cheltenham come March. They don't make 'em like that anymore!

4. Hatton's Grace (1949-51)

Vincent O'Brien originally took the jumps scene by storm from Churchtown in Co Cork. The legendary handler saddled Cottage Rake to win the first of three Gold Cups in 1948, and his scruffier-looking stable-mate Hatton's Grace initiated his hat-trick under Aubrey Brabazon in 1949.

Bought for just 18 guineas, Hatton's Grace was six years old before he graced the track due to wartime restrictions. He dominated the field en route to scoring by six lengths in the prestigious Prestbury Park two-miler in 1949 and followed up with similar authority in 1950.

When he and Tim Molony completed his glorious feat as an 11-year-old, he was about to pass the former dual winner National Spirit at the last flight when the leader fell. Hatton's Grace strode home in bottomless ground to enter the history books.

5. See You then (1985-87)

Nowadays, we blame modern training sensibilities when horses are raced sparingly, but such was the scarcity with which Nicky Henderson's exceptional triple champion ran that he was often referred to as 'See You When'. Regally-bred and fragile, See You Then was all quality.

Henderson's cautious approach reaped rich dividends, as the sheer class of his electric jumper – ridden to each of his three wins by Steve Smith-Eccles after Francome missed the first through injury – shone brightly on the few occasions he graced the track each term.

Notoriously hostile to handle, See You Then cruised to successive triumphs with tremendous flair, and signed off with 10 wins from just 15 starts when his legs finally gave in ahead of a fourth shot.

6. Sea Pigeon (1980-81)

Sea Pigeon, classy enough to run in an Epsom Derby, possessed rare acceleration. A decorated Flat racer, he was a mercurial hold-up horse that got racing too early in the 1978 and 1979 Champions.

He led off the home turn in 1979 before Monksfield fought back, but a change in the track lay-out 12 months later would prove all-important. The race was reduced in length by 200 yards to two miles dead.

Jonjo O'Neill produced Sea Pigeon to join Monksfield at the last flight, before finally unleashing his turn of foot halfway up the run-in.

It was his fourth attempt at 10 years of age, and John Francome, standing in for the injured O'Neill, replicated the daring tactics superbly in 1981.

Like Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon was trained by Peter Easterby, and the inscription over the grave that they share in Yorkshire reads simply: 'Legends in their Lifetime.'

Belfast Telegraph


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