Old pays tribute to 'street-fighting' Champion Hurdle winner Collier Bay
Collier Bay, who won the 1996 Champion Hurdle, has died at the age of 27. He had been in contented retirement with Emma Grierson, trainer Jim Old’s long-serving secretary.
After a Flat career that yielded just one maiden race success from a dozen appearances, in 1993 Collier Bay was bought as a three-year-old by Wally Sturt and moved to Old’s yard near Marlborough.
Collier Bay soon proved more adept over hurdles and in 1995 won the Imperial Cup at Sandown by 11 lengths. In 1996 he won the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown before landing the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham under Graham Bradley, beating the odds-on Alderbrook.
“On Champion Hurdle day Collier Bay was a very, very good horse,” said Old on Monday. “I think he was as good a Champion Hurdle winner as you’ll see.
"So many people blamed Richard Dunwoody for giving Alderbrook too much to do but Collier Bay beat the same horses Alderbrook had beaten the year before but we were in front this time. We were better on the day.”
Although subsequently winning and running respectably, Collier Bay did not recapture the same heights and was retired in 2001.
“He had bad feet, bad joints and then his wind went so we were never really able to capitalise on it,” added Old, “although we did have another magical day when we beat Relkeel in what was effectively a match race at Towcester! We gave him 8lb and beat him.
"That was the following season in the February, when there were so many abandonments and Hugo Bevan put on the race for us. He then went for the Champion again but the ground was fast and he pulled up. He was never as good again.
“He was a street-fighting thug and would drop you as a pastime at home but as far as I’m concerned he was career defining. He was a real character and had a great retirement.”
His Champion Hurdle victory went into festival folklore as much for the circumstances surrounding Graham Bradley’s last-minute association with the winner as it did for Collier Bay's brilliant performance.
Bradley was booked to ride hot-favourite Alderbrook but was replaced by Dunwoody after sleeping in and missing a crucial schooling session on the defending champion.
Just days before the race he was still without a ride in the race but when Jamie Osborne opted to ride Mysilv rather than Collier Bay, Bradley was snapped up.
“It was one of the highlights of my career, for an unbelievable trainer who deserved it,” recalled Bradley. “He was a lovely horse and a great jumper – he was a lot better hurdler than he was chaser. He had quite a few problems through his career but he was a trier.”
Reliving his Cheltenham win, Bradley said: “He was in the first three all the way and I quickened away from Alderbrook around the bend and he kept going up the hill. It was a fabulous performance.
“They don’t get much better than that and he was just a lovely ride, with a high cruising speed. It’s just a shame he had those injuries but it was an absolute thrill.”
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