With the Cheltenham Festival just under three weeks away we take a look at the Champion Hurdle, which has thrown up some incredible winners over the years.
The likes of Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Hardy Eustace have all won this coveted prize more than once and Epatante has the chance to join them this year in this National Hunt season.
It won’t be easy for this likeable mare. She has some strong opposition to come up against with the likes of Honeysuckle, who is current favourite for the Champion Hurdle, and Goshen in the Champion Hurdle 2021 odds.
However, she is trained by Nicky Henderson who has won this race eight times, including three times in the past four years with Epatante and the superb Buveur D’Air, who won in 2017 and 2018. He also trained See You Then to win in three successive years in the 1980s. You can see a distinct Champion Hurdle trend with the amount of horses who win this race more than once.
This race is always one of the most thrilling of the Festival as the best two-mile hurdlers in Great Britain and Ireland go head-to-head in a race which is usually run at a frenetic pace.
Let us take a further look at some of the magnificent horses Epatante could emulate if she doubles up on March 16th.
Similar to most of the Championship races at Cheltenham, a lot of horses do win these prestigious races more than once. Buveur D’Air was the last horse to do that in 2017 and 2018 for Henderson and his team.
In the first of his two wins, Buveur D’Air was sent off at 5/1 with Noel Fehily on board. He was put into contention at the final flight and stormed up the hill to win by four lengths from My Tent or Yours.
From then on, Buveur D’Air dominated the two-mile hurdling scene for a year or so, adding another Champion Hurdle triumph to the list 12 months later.
This wasn’t as straightforward, though. Backed into 4/6, he looked to be travelling well but the Willie Mullins-trained Melon battled him all the way to the line with Buveur D’Air prevailing by a neck.
He was back once again in 2019 but fell at the third flight with Espoir D’Allen pulling off a shock to win at odds of 16/1. Buveur D’Air missed last year through injury but is back for a fourth time as he is set to line-up on March 16th. Take a look at the latest odds from the race and this now 10-year-old can be backed at 16/1. Can he pull of a shock?
The Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly won this race in 2011 and 2013 and was the punter’s friend, having won this race as favourite both times.
His first success in 2011 was thanks to an inspired ride by Ruby Walsh, as he delivered his challenge at the perfect time to get the better of Peddlers Cross in a titanic duel up the Cheltenham hill.
However, 12 months later, ‘The Fly’ had a shock defeat, finishing third behind Rock on Ruby at odds of 4/6. Many observers felt his best days were behind him but Hurricane Fly proved the doubters wrong after that loss.
He yet again mopped up the top races in Ireland and was back for another tilt in 2013. Sent off 13/8 favourite, he got the better of his old foe, Rock on Ruby, and returned to jubilant scenes in the winners’ enclosure. A truly legendary horse!
The Dessie-Hughes trained Hardy Eustace was a really gutsy battler who won this event in 2004 and 2005. Coming here in 2004, the horse was virtually given no chance of winning. He was 33/1 off and faced a tough task to beat 2003 winner and hot favourite, Rooster Booster.
Rooster Booster travelled ominously well to throw down the gauntlet to Hardy Eustace, but the Irish horse showed tremendous heart to stave off his challenge to win and become the biggest-priced winner of this race since 1989.
Twelve months later, his odds were much shorter after a successful hurdling campaign in Ireland over that winter. In a momentous race at Prestbury Park, he repelled all challengers and battled bravely to win by a neck from Harchibald.
Hardy Eustace’s next big target was to make it three-in-a-row in 2006 but finished third behind Brave Inca. Probably one of the toughest horses to have won this great race.
Arguably the greatest two-mile hurdler of all-time, Istabraq won this race in 1998, 1999 and 2000 after winning the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle in 1997. Trained by the peerless Aiden O’Brien, Istabraq was sent off at 3/1 favourite in 1998 and romped home by 12 lengths from Theatreworld.
Istabraq was pretty much unbeatable over the course of these three years, winning the Irish Champion Hurdle four times for good measure. When he returned to Cheltenham in 1999, he was the 4/9 favourite. Ridden by Charlie Swan in all three of his Champion Hurdle wins, the pair once again broke Theatreworld’s hearts with a decisive victory.
The following year, Istabraq strolled home to beat Hors La Loi III by four lengths and wrote his own chapter in Cheltenham folklore.
Starting odds-on favourite again in 2001, the meeting was abandoned and his bid to become the first horse to win this great race four times was thwarted.
Istabraq came back in 2002 to try again. Sent off narrow 2/1 favourite, the horse was never travelling well and was pulled up early. After the race, Istabraq was retired and remains the last horse to win this race three times.
For the latest odds on the all on the Cheltenham Festival races, take a look at our NetBet site! We also have a fantastic NetBet promotion on our site as you get a refund as a Free Bet up to £10 if your horse comes second to the SP favourite!