Currently sponsored by Unibet, the Champion Hurdle is considered the most prestigious hurdling event of the UK jump season. A number of legendary horses made their name by winning the Champion Hurdle, such as Istabraq, Night Nurse, Brown Jack, and Sea Pidgeon. This event is open to thoroughbreds aged four and over, and is held on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. The purse amounts to £400,000 ensuring that the field will consist of top-class jumpers.
The Champion Hurdle is a Grade One race, hosted annually in March during the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. The race features eight hurdles over a distance of around two miles on a left-handed course, and it is open to horses aged four years and over. Each five-year-old horse must carry 11st-10lbs (males) or 11 st-3lbs (females). Four-year-olds must carry 11st-2lbs or 10st-9lbs respectively.
location: Cheltenham Racecourse
grade: Grade 1
race type: Hurdle
The Champion Hurdle was inaugurated in 1927 and was immediately classed as one of the most desirable races for champion jumpers. Since 2007, the Champion Hurdle is part of the WBX Hurdling Triple Crown and serves as the final race and grand finale of this great jump racing series. The Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle precede the Champion Hurdle as the first and second leg of the Hurdling Triple Crown. It is held on the first day, also known as Champion Day, of the Cheltenham Festival.
As the premier event of the hurdling season, the Champion Hurdle offers a hefty top prize of £227,800 to the winner from a purse that amounts to £400,000 as of 2017.
Below are a few of the current records for the Champion Hurdle (as of 2017) .
The horse with the widest winning margin is Insurance who won the 1932 Champion Hurdle by 12 lengths. He was also the first double winner of the race with another victory in 1933.
Five thoroughbreds hold the record for most wins with three apiece. These include: Hatton's Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then, and Istabraq. Over the past decade, the horse that came closest to also achieving three wins was Hurricane Fly who won in both 2011 and 2013.
The most successful trainer in the history of the Champion Hurdle is Nicky Henderson who won six times starting with See You Then in 1985 to BuveurD'Air in 2017. He displaced Peter Easterby who held the record previously with five wins from 1967 to 1981.
The fastest times in recorded history were both accomplished over the past five years. 2014's Jezki earned the record for fastest time by winning in 3 minutes and 45.25 seconds. Only two years later in 2016, Annie Power set a new record time of 3 minutes and 45.10 seconds.
The title of most successful Champion Hurdle Jockey is jointly held by Tim Moloney and Ruby Walsh, who rode four winners each between 1951 and 1954 and between 2011 and 2016 respectively.
Hurdle races are often an opportunity for older racehorses from flat racecourses to continue competing. Below are a few of the best moments provided by top-competitors in the history of the Champion Hurdle - most of which started out as flat-racers (as of 2017) .
Hurricane Fly started his career as a flat racer, the gelding had much better success as a jumper with 24 wins from 32 starts. A record 22 of those wins were Grade One including five Irish Champion Hurdles, four Panchestown Champion Hurdles and two Champion Hurdles.
A few decades earlier, double Champion Hurdle winner Bula (1971, 1972) was a top competitor in his novice hurdling years with a career hurdle race record of 21 wins from 26 starts. He is certainly one of the strongest hurdlers to win in recent history.
Novice hurdlers rarely take the Champion Hurdle. However, the 1992 winner, Royal Gait, made history by being the least experienced novice to win the prestigious race since Doorknocker in 1956.
2016 winner Faugheen must be mentioned for being the highest rated horse to win a Champion Hurdle in recent history with a career hurdle race record of 12 wins from 13 starts - the majority of which are Grade One.