Cheltenham Memories: Sizzling Stayers' Hurdles


There have been many encounters at the Cheltenham Festival which will live long in the memory.

From the days of Arkle, Desert Orchid and to Kauto Star, there have been horses and clashes that will stand the test of time.

Ed Quigley goes on a trip down memory lane selecting some of his favourite races and moments throughout the years, and some of the more dramatic and unusual moments. Sit back and enjoy reliving some great encounters here on, as you join us for the series of Cheltenham Memories.

Inglis Drever (2008)

A magical moment at the Cheltenham Festival, and one of my all-time favourite Cheltenham Festival races, as the nine-year-old Inglis Drever won his third Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Howard Johnson trained gelding, successful in 2005 and 2007 lined up for the 2008 renewal as the 11/8f, almost slotting into the ‘home banker’ category arriving on the back of a five-length success in the Cleeve Hurdle.

What followed was a race of sheer excitement, as Inglis Drever, the mount of Denis O’Regan hit his customary flat-spot about four flights from home when short for room, and started to make seemingly heavy weather of it. However, we had grown fond of his running style, and sweeping down towards the last hurdle he started to eat up the ground on those ahead of him; he passed My Way De Solzen and then produced for his challenge, he pinged the last alongside Kasbah Bliss and Kazal. This left Inglis Drever and Kasbah Bliss to fight it out in a terrific tussle, which in truth was only going to produce one winner.

Commentator SImon Holt reminded us that “he usually storms up the hill”, and In pouring rain, that was what he did, as the crowd’s roar urged him home as he he crossed to the line to euphoric scenes of Denis O’Regan saluting the crowd, groom Ginni Wright in tears, and punters going bezerk. The reception the pair received upon coming back to the winners’ enclosure was the stuff of goosebumps. A truly memorable afternoon back in 2008.

Big Buck’s (2012)

What a way to round off winning four consecutive Stayers’ Hurdles – by saving the most thrilling to last. The Paul Nicholls trained legend is etched in the history books as a bona fide hall-of-fame individual, and the hazy day in 2012 just about summed it up.

Sent off the 5/6f in the hands of Ruby Walsh to win his 16th race on the bounce, this was epic stuff. Two out, Walsh and his willing partner had tanked to the front of proceedings with the likes of Oscar Whisky, Thousand Stars and Voler La Vedette all stalking in behind. Walsh would have to do it the hard way and fend off the challengers one by one as he gradually turned the screw – a tactic that was working as one by one his rivals threw in the towel. That was however, apart from the patiently ridden Voler La Vedette, ridden by Andrew Lynch.

The mare was produced in the latter stages by Lynch in what for a moment, looked like the long and proud unbeaten streak could go up in smoke. Approaching the last flight, Lynch swictched his mare towards the inside rail as Big Buck’s drifted out towards the centre of the track. She tried to scuttle up the nearside rail and catch the champion flat footed. It was a trick which almost came off, but in true ‘Big Buck’s fashion’ he dug in up the Cheltenham hill for yet another subsequent visit to the winners enclosure.

The ride by Lynch is often labelled as one of the best losing rides at the Cheltenham Festival, in an exhillating contest that can be watched on repeat.

Cole Harden (2015)

A personal favourite of mine, was when the Warren Greatrex trained Cole Harden caused a big upset to land the 2015 running of the Stayers’ Hurdle.

In a brazen, pillar-to-post ride from Gavin Sheehan, the six-year-old was enjoying himself out in front with the pack waiting in behind to make their move. Sheehan slowed slightly and stacked the field up on the long run down to the second last; then as he turned into the home straight, he kicked and injected the turbo once again which suddenly produced a few alarm signals from those in behind.

Coel Harden stole a march on the field as he b-lined it to the final flight, with the Paul Nicholls trained Saphir Du Rheu emerging out of the pack to try and hunt him down. Cole Harden, with the benefit of a wind operation, came alive on the spring ground, and powered up the Cheltenham Hill to win by just over three lengths. It sparked emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure in the aftermath, with Greatrex in tears and massive fist pump of elation to the galleries from an overwhelmed Sheehan. Magic days.

Thistlecrack (2016)

Everyone watching on that bright sunny day in 2016, gazed in total awe, as Thistlecrack ran out arguably the easiest winner we have seen of this three mile event.

The glowing orange silks cantered into contention, and then when asked to quicken and go and put the race to bed in a matter of strides, he did. All it took was a shake of the reins for the eight-year-old to win the Grade 1 in devastating fashion. Trainer, Colin Tizzard was close to tears, and despite everyone expecting the even-money favourite to deliver, it was the manner in which he achieved it which really set the pulse racing. Tom Scudamore was all smiles as the duo returned to the winners enclosure in a scintillating performance.

Paisley Park (2019)

There is never a dull moment with Paisley Park around, and similar to former great, Inglis Drever, he never makes it look easy.

We saw all the flat-spots in operation here, as he was furiously ridden in about ninth position as they approached the home turn, and to many people, it seemed as though the 11.8f was going up and down on the spot. However, under the bonnet were reserves of minerals not that not all possess; Aidan Coleman and his loyal friend started to hit top gear as they made their move down the stands’ side, picking off rivals one by one.

He swooped to the front approaching the last flight, leaving Faugheen and Sam Spinner trailing in their wake. He bundled the last, but galvanised by Coleman he soon got going again to win by the best part of three lengths. Can he do it again in 2022? If he does, the roof may actually come off the stand at Prestbury Park. The Peoples’ Horse will be cheered to the rafters by the people.