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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Suits you: the Cheltenham Festival winners who lived up to their names

French Ballerina and Graham Bradley jumping the last to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the 1998 Cheltenham Festival
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1 French Ballerina

With all the anticipation that builds up ahead of the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle it would tempting to nominate 2013 hero Champagne Fever but the prize goes to the ultra-classy French Ballerina, who danced away from no fewer than 29 rivals to score for Susan Magnier, Pat Flynn and Graham Bradley in 1998, leaving His Song and many a festival banker seven yawning lengths in her wake. 

A dual winner of the Listed Saval Beg Stakes on the Flat, French Ballerina tragically broke down in the early stages of that summer’s Ascot Gold Cup and could not be saved.

2 Hardy Eustace

Classy and tough in equal measure, Hardy Eustace bore his name with defiant pride when winning at three successive festivals between 2003 and 2005 for Dessie Hughes and Lar Byrne. 

Off the bridle at the top of the hill in the 2m5f novice hurdle, he battled all the way to the line for Kieran Kelly.

Twelve months on there were tears as well as smiles as Hardy Eustace made all to land the Champion Hurdle as a 33-1 chance but without Kelly, who had been tragically killed in a fall at Kilbeggan in August.

Coming to the last in 2005 Hardy Eustace was locked in a three-way fight with Brave Inca and Harchibald and once again ran all the way to the line for Conor O'Dwyer when his rivals had cried enough.

3 Make A Stand

All-the-way winners of the two-mile championship are not all that common but seven years before the first of Hardy Eustace’s two successes, Make A Stand did just that when he took the race by the scruff of the neck in 1997 under Tony McCoy. Ten lengths clear at halfway he broke the hearts of his pursuers to record one of the most iconic successes in Champion Hurdle history.

4 Monsignor

"And the good thing’s going to win." That was the verdict of commentator Simon Holt as Monsignor ambled away from his toiling rivals in the 2000 running of the race which is now the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle.

Norman Williamson drives Monsignor to the line at Cheltenham
It had been considerably harder work for Brendan Powell in getting Monsignor home in the Weatherbys Bumper of 1999 but, in the intervening 12 months, the imposing chestnut had racked up five wins over hurdles by an aggregate of more than 70 lengths. 

Injury meant we never saw him race again but on that day at Cheltenham, Monsignor certainly was lord of all he surveyed.

5 Ben Stack

You had better hope for a horse with stature and physique if you name them after a mountain and Ben Stack certainly fitted the mould, having been described by Jim Dreaper as "one of the best looking horses to come out of Greenogue". 

Among three horses named by Anne Duchess of Westminster after peaks on her Reay Forest estate in Sutherland, Scotland, Ben Stack is less frequently recalled than either Foinavon or Arkle.

Beaten by 'Himself' in a Navan bumper when considered the better prospect by Jim's father, Tom Dreaper, Ben Stack more than lived up to his future billing when winning the 1963 Cotswold Chase [later renamed the Arkle] and the following year’s Champion Chase.

6 Xenophon

Saddled with the name of a Greek philosopher, soldier and mercenary, Xenophon made off with boatloads of the bookmaker's money after landing a huge gamble in the 2003 Coral Cup.

After being backed at 20-1 ante-post following a comfortable success in the Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown, Tony Martin's gelding opened up on course at 8-1 before being sent off 4-1 favourite.

A sheepskin noseband made the relentless progress of Xenophon easy to track and the writing was on the wall for punters and layers alike well before Mick Fitzgerald delivered him at the last. 

7 A New Story

The first five years of the cross-country chase seemed to follow a predictable pattern, with four wins apiece for trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus – three of them ridden by Nina Carberry –while none of the first five winners was returned longer than 4-1.

A New Story and Adrian Heskin (left) jump the last upsides Lacdoudal and L'Ami in the 2010 Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

The script changed substantially in 2010 with the 33-1 success of the 12-year-old A New Story, trained by Michael Hourigan, ridden by Adrian Heskin and attempting the unconventional test of for just the third time in his career. 

A New Story would himself become a fixture, finishing third and then second as a teenager before running in the race for a fifth time at the age of 15 in 2013.

8 Miracle Man

Trainer (and car salesman) Colin Weedon showed near limitless patience to bring Miracle Man back to win his novice hurdle at Fontwell in November 1994, 622 days after crashing out at the last flight in a similar race at Newton Abbott.

He then went on a winning streak which propelled him up the weights before landing the 1995 running of what is now the Pertemps Final – a race which can often be the preserve of the less exposed – Peter Hobbs getting the 9-2 favourite home by a short head from Pragada.

9 Cole Harden

The 2015 Stayers' Hurdle hero is named after Gary Cooper's character in the The Westerner, a 1940 film depicting the rivalry between rich ranchers and struggling homesteaders. 

Cooper's everyman appeal chimes with his equine namesake, as Warren Greatrex's breakthrough festival winner has never given any less than his all on the track. Cole Harden enjoyed his finest hour when repelling all challengers under a front-running ride from Gavin Sheehan.  

10 Bit Of A Skite

Irish vernacular offers an array of ways to deploy the word skite but the horse's trainer, Edward O'Grady, is in no doubt as to which version his uncle, the legendary PP Hogan, had in mind when naming him. 

In Hogan's world, a skite would be a session with plenty of liquid refreshment.

There may have been a few glasses raised by those around O'Grady and JP McManus after Bit Of A Skite and Frank Codd brought to an end a somewhat unfortunate sequence of near misses for owner and trainer in the National Hunt Chase in 1983.

The celebrations will have stepped up considerably when he went on to land he Irish Grand National under Tommy Ryan at Fairyhouse the following month. 


If you enjoyed this, you might like: 

From Monksfield to Master Oats: relive vintage festival races

Let's hear it for the girls: a look back at Cheltenham Festival's leading ladies

When codes collide: the Flat jockeys who made their mark at Cheltenham Festival

 

Make A Stand did just that when he took the race by the scruff of the neck in 1997 under Tony McCoy
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