|Grade 1 race|
|Race type||Hurdle race|
|Distance||2m ½f (3,319 metres)|
|Qualification||Four-years-old and up|
|Weight||11 st 2 lb (4yo);
11 st 10 lb (5yo+)
7 lb for fillies and mares
The Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race in Great Britain which is open to horses aged four years or older. As part of a sponsorship agreement with the online sportsbook StanJames.com, the race is now known as the Stan James Champion Hurdle. It is run on the Old Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about two miles and 110 yards (3,319 metres), and during its running there are eight hurdles to be jumped. The race is scheduled to take place each year on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
As its title suggests, the Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar. Its list of winners features many of the most highly acclaimed hurdlers in the sport's history, and several of these, such as National Spirit, Istabraq, Hatton's Grace, Persian War and Lanzarote, have had races named in their honour.
The first Champion Hurdle was run in 1927, and its inaugural winner, Blaris, was awarded prize money of £365. In its second year the event was won by Brown Jack, who subsequently became a prolific winner of long-distance flat races. The Champion Hurdle was abandoned in 1931 due to persistent frost, and in 1932 it was contested by just three horses – the smallest field in its history. The race was cancelled twice during World War II, in 1943 and 1944.
The post-war years saw the emergence of the event's first triple winner, Hatton's Grace, who was trained in Ireland by Vincent O'Brien. The achievement of Hatton's Grace was soon to be matched by Sir Ken, who recorded three successive victories in the 1950s. Before the second of these Sir Ken was given a starting price of 2/5 (a £5 bet would have won £2). He is the shortest-priced horse to have won the race. The third horse to win the event three times was Persian War, who completed his hat-trick in 1970. Commercial sponsorship of the Champion Hurdle began in 1978, and it was initially backed by Waterford Crystal.
The 1984 winner, Dawn Run, became the second mare to win the Champion Hurdle. In the same year she also won the Irish and French versions of the event, and two seasons later she won the most prestigious chase in National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. She remains the only horse to have completed the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double. From 1985 to 1987 the Champion Hurdle was dominated by See You Then, who became the event's fourth three-time winner. A new sponsor, Smurfit (now known as the Smurfit Kappa Group), began supporting the race in 1991. The second female horse to win the race was Flakey Dove, the winner in 1994.
The last triple winner of the Champion Hurdle was Istabraq, whose successes came in 1998, 1999 and 2000. In the early weeks of 2001 he was the odds-on favourite to win the race again, for an unprecedented fourth time. However, this opportunity was lost as the entire Cheltenham Festival was cancelled that year because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Istabraq returned for the 2002 running, but on this occasion he failed to complete the race, and he was retired thereafter.
The race is the final leg of the Road to Cheltenham, a series of high-class hurdles races sponsored by StanJames.com consisting of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the International Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle Trial.
Most successful horse (3 wins):
- Hatton's Grace – 1949, 1950, 1951
- Sir Ken – 1952, 1953, 1954
- Persian War – 1968, 1969, 1970
- See You Then – 1985, 1986, 1987
- Istabraq – 1998, 1999, 2000
Leading jockey (4 wins):
- Tim Molony – Hatton's Grace (1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954)
Leading trainer (5 wins):
- Peter Easterby – Saucy Kit (1967), Night Nurse (1976, 1977), Sea Pigeon (1980, 1981)
- Nicky Henderson – See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010)
Leading owner (4 wins):
- Dorothy Paget – Insurance (1932, 1933), Solford (1940), Distel (1946)
- J. P. McManus – Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000), Binocular (2010)
- Amateur jockeys indicated by "Mr"
1 The race was abandoned in 1931 due to frost
2 Race was not run in 1943 and 1944 because of World War II
3 The 2001 running was cancelled because of a foot-and-mouth crisis. A substitute race at Sandown was won by Landing Light.
- Stan James Champion Hurdle Sponsorship Announcement StanJames.com, 28 September 2010
- Champion Hurdle results, Racing Post:
- Champion Hurdle - Cheltenham Pedigree Online