[dropcap]T[/dropcap]o my utmost regret, very little is recalled of Istabraq’s three Champion Hurdle triumphs. Save the fact that for at least a couple of them, his Aidan O’Brien trained stable mate Theatreworld ended up being his closest pursuer. The Hardy Eustace Cheltenham success story remains much more vivid. For a cacophony of emotional reasons.
Foremost among them, obviously, the poignancy of the story owing to the involvement of the late Kieran Kelly. The young rider was aboard Dessie Hughes’s then stable star when he won what was then the Sun Alliance Hurdle in 2003 but had tragically passed away before Hardy returned twelve months on to nab the Champion Hurdle as a 33/1 outsider.
From a purely sporting perspective, memories of 2005 remain as clear as day. Not for all bad reasons either, though admittedly mostly. A positive aside, however, was that the reigning top two mile hurdler was the first steed upon which yours truly wagered ante post. That said, the 8/1 attained the previous Christmas would gladly have been forsaken had the innately talented yet singularly enigmatic Harchibald consented to Paul Carberry’s urgings and put his best hoof a few inches further forward.
For what it’s worth, I remain unmoved in my belief that the Ratoath rider did everything in his power to bend the Perugino gelding to his will. If he did err, in fact, it was probably in asking his quirky partner to go a stride too early. Noel Meade’s charge thus being left with that unfortunate back handed compliment of being one of the best in his division not to claim the top gong.
On the other hand, Hardy Eustace must rank among the greatest ever winners of the race. But here’s the thing, why make comparisons between any of them? Yes, we all do it, however, for example, to place the achievements of, say, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly against each other is wholly futile and actually could serve to entirely undeservedly diminish what two superb horses achieved in their own right. As will the almost inevitable debate as to where Faugheen may end up in terms of some of his vaunted predecessors.
One common characteristic which symbolises elite performing athletes – be the human or equine – is that they tend to be at the zenith of their powers when enjoying greatest levels of dominance in their given arena. Formulation of those qualities can vary however. Put another way, champions can be different in their makeup.
Any horse that wins any race at the Cheltenham Festival – or any of the flagship fixtures over jumps or indeed on the flat – is obviously constituted of stellar ability. However, what gives each a veneer of individuality are the unique qualities they each possess in their own right.
For example – and again this is only my own opinion – there’d be as little difficulty in envisioning Harchibald or Hurricane Fly winning high class races on the level as there would in imagining that Hardy Eustace could have made it as a very good middle distance chaser had the desire existed to go that route. Or, to employ two more recently pertinent examples, Goonyella’s undoubted stamina would suggest that – on ground of suitable arduousness – he would have no bother staying five miles were there such a race! Whereas, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree was, you feel, sufficiently fleet of foot to have been competitive in some of the novice chases over shorter trips had connections not had enough faith in their horse to take on the big one. Belief that was obviously fairly well founded as, not only that one, but their entire string has been in rude health. As best evidenced by the victory for the admirable Carruthers – once owned by the late, lamented Lord Oaksey – among others since.
The examples are numerous and there are intriguing stories behind each and every one of them, success must always be taken in context. Anybody or anything that achieves success in anything reaches a level of greatness which, for a time at least, leaves them well clear of their rivals.
As was said in another piece regarding bountiful success in another sporting sphere, each glorious dawn that comes should be, as Johnny Giles might say, taken on its own merits. Constant comparisons often lead to unfortunate and unjustified devaluations of achievement.