Night Nurse: won the Champion Hurdle two years in a rowPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Night Nurse was a shining star during a golden period of hurdling. He won the Champion Hurdle in 1976 and again in 1977 when in the strongest of fields ever assembled, he conquered two other dual-winners, the mighty Monksfield and the brilliantly versatile Sea Pigeon, his own stablemate.
He later dead-heated with Monksfield, when conceding him 6lb, in arguably the most thrilling hurdle race ever witnessed, the Templegate Hurdle at Aintree on the same day that Red Rum won his third Grand National.
A bold front-runner, whose greatest qualities were his speed and accuracy over a hurdle, his relentless gallop and his indomitable will-to-win, Night Nurse was unbeaten in the 19775-76 season, which embraced the Champion Hurdle and its equivalents in Ireland (Sweeps Hurdle), Scotland and Wales. Not bad going for a previously average Flat horse who, early in his career, was diagnosed to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
Having lost a hint of sparkle in the 1977-78 season when he filled third spot at Cheltenham behind Monksfield and Sea Pigeon in the Champion Hurdle, Night Nurse was sent over fences the following term.
He never quite managed to scale the same heady heights as a chaser, but he came very close to creating a special piece of racing history of becoming the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double.
In the 1981 Gold Cup, he made much of the running, which was his favourite style of racing, only to be cut down and beaten into second place by a margin of one and a half lengths. Ironically, his conqueror was the up-and-coming Little Owl, one of his very own stablemates, who was subsequently plagued by bursting blood vessels and never won another race.
When he died in 1998, Night Nurse was buried in a paddock near his trainer Peter Easterby’s Yorkshire home and lays alongside his great rival Sea Pigeon. The plaque near their graves reads; “Legends in their lifetimes”.