The County Hurdle is one of the Festival races for the speedsters, with a large field of two-mile hurdlers needing to negotiate eight flights of timber at a true racing pace. The extra furlong on top of the two miles – not to mention the Prestbury Park hill tends to sort out the pretenders from the winners.
For five-year-olds and upwards, the race is now named after training legend Vincent O’Brien, the former Ballydoyle trainer whose name is synonymous with some of the great Derby winners as well as his NH champions. O’Brien trained four Gold Cup winners between 1948 and 1953 as well as preparing Hatton’s Grace for a hat-trick of Champion Hurdles between 1949 and 1951.
The Irish master never won the race now named in his honour, but other champion trainers have had more success in recent years. Paul Nicholls has sent out four winners and is the most successful trainer of County Hurdle runners, with Martin Pipe, Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson all just behind him on two apiece.
Recent winners have been a bit of a mixed bag when looking at how they fared after their big day at Cheltenham, but in general the race has produced some very good winners. The best of them must be the popular grey and 2003 winner Rooster Booster – it’s hard to match an 11-length win in the Champion Hurdle!
Finally the old boy Blowing Wind deserves a mention for following up his 1998 County Hurdle success by winning the Mildmay over fences four years later… not to mention finishing third in two Grand Nationals!
The County Hurdle was traditionally the last race of the Festival until the running order was changed in 2009. It is currently scheduled as the second race on the final day, splitting the two novice races; the Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett. The race was first run in 1920, and is now classed as a Grade Three handicap.
With Paul Nicholls as leading trainer it should be no surprise that Ruby Walsh tops the table of winning jockeys. Walsh rode all three of his boss’s County Hurdle victors (Sporazene, Desert Quest and American Trilogy) and completed his quartet on Willie Mullins’ Final Approach in 2011. To top things off nicely, his sister Katie was on board the 2010 winner Thousand Stars.
The Irish have done well in recent renewals of the race, winning six of the last seven renewals of the race, being split only by Paul Nicholls back in 2009.
- 2013 County Hurdle Preview
|2014||Lac Fontana||5||P F Nicholls||11-1|
|2013||Ted Veale||6||A Martin||10-1|
|2011||Final Approach||5||W Mullins||10-1|
|2010||Thousand Stars||6||W Mullins||20-1|
|2009||American Trilogy||5||P Nicholls||20-1|
|2008||Silver Jaro||5||T Hogan||50-1|
|2006||Desert Quest||6||P Nicholls||4-1JF|
|2005||Fontanesi||5||M C Pipe||16-1|
|2003||Spirit Leader||7||Ms J Harrington||10-1|
|2002||Rooster Booster||8||P Hobbs||8-1|
|2000||Master Tern||5||J O’Neill||9-2F|