At the time of writing, Buveur D’Air stands on the cusp of greatness as he attempts to become the first horse since Istabraq, and just the sixth in all, to win the Champion Hurdle three times. His Timeform Annual Rating, of 167, is some way adrift of that awarded to the greatest hurdlers since the early Sixties, so we’ve reviewed the previous triple winners of the Champion Hurdle to see how they compare. Check out the Cheltenham Betting Guide for a more up-to-date take on this unmissable festival of racing.
Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000)
Owned, like Buveur D’Air, by J.P. McManus, trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Charlie Swan, Istabraq was awarded a Timeform Annual Rating of 180, alongside Monksfield and inferior, by 2lb, only to Night Nurse in the Timeform era. Having quickened clear for an impressive, 4-length win over Hors La Loi III in the millennium renewal of the Champion Hurdle, Istrabraq was denied the opportunity to defend his title – and attempt an unprecedented four-timer – after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease forced the cancellation of the entire Cheltenham Festival in 2001. He did return for the Champion Hurdle the following year, but was pulled up before the third flight and never raced again.
See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987)
Beaten favourite in the Triumph Hurdle in 1984, See You Then was an ill-tempered, but fragile, gelding, who was rarely seen on the racecourse between his three Champion Hurdle victories. He was trained, like Buveur D’Air, by Nicky Henderson and ridden, on all three occasions, by Steve Smith-Eccles, who deputised for the injured John Francome in 1985 and kept the ride when Francome retired shortly afterwards. Despite limited racecourse appearances – between 1984/85 and 1986/87 he had just ten starts, winning eight of them – See You Then earned a Timeform Annual Rating of 173.
Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970)
Trained by Colin Davies and ridden to all three Champion Hurdle victories by Jimmy Utley, Persian War was awarded a Timeform Annual Rating of 179, 1lb inferior to Istabraq, and therefore fourth on the all-time list, according to the respected ratings organisation. The winner of the Triumph Hurdle in 1967, Persian War also finished second, beaten 4 lengths, behind Bula in the Champion Hurdle in 1971. Indeed, had he not been shuffled from pillar-to-post, among six trainers, by his owner Henry Alper, he nay have been even more successful.
Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954)
Trained by Willie Stephenson and ridden by Tim Molony – who also won the Champion Hurdle on Hatton’s Grace in 1951 – Sir Ken recorded his three successive victories in the Champion Hurdle in the period before Timeform ratings were published for National Hunt racing and, as such, is difficult to compare with different generations. Nevertheless, Sir Ken had the distinction of being returned at odds of 2/5 in 1953, making him the shortest-priced winner in the history of the Champion Hurdle.
Hatton’s Grace (1949, 1950, 1951)
Trained by Vincent O’Brien and ridden on the first two occasions by Aubrey Brabazon and on the last by Tim Molony, Hatton’s Grace was a plain, cheaply bought gelding, who didn’t see a racecourse until he was six years old and didn’t win the Champion Hurdle until he was nine. However, after an unlikely victory over the seemingly invincible National Spirit in 1949, he followed up in 1950 and in 1951, as an 11-year-old, became the first horse to complete a hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle. He remains one of just two horses of that age – the other being Sea Pigeon in 1981 – to win the Champion Hurdle.