This year’s renewal of the Coral Hurdle will be the 13th renewal under Coral sponsorship and its roll of honour is one to be proud of. 2006 was the inaugural running of the Coral Hurdle, registered as the Ascot Hurdle, and there couldn’t have been a more fitting winner.
Hardy Eustace gave racing fans on both sides of the Irish Sea some memorable days, especially at Cheltenham where he won back-to-back Champion Hurdles in 2004 and 2005, having secured the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle (now the Neptune) a year previous. Ridden by Conor O’Dwyer and trained by the legendary Dessie Hughes, Hardy Eustace wasn’t just Hardy by name, proving too tough for the durable pair of Mighty Man and Lough Derg.
The Irish trio were back to defend their crown in 2007 where a promising 5YO of Nicky Henderson’s, Afsoun, stood in their way. Hardy Eustace, a then 10YO, proved age was no barrier as he out-battled Afsoun in a thrilling finish.
Henderson went on to win the next two Coral Hurdles, courtesy of the prolific mare, Chomba Womba (2008) and the enigmatic Zaynar (2009) who was on one of his ‘going days’.
Unfortunately for connections, Zaynar wasn’t in the same form in the 2010 running of the race. The 13/8f jumped slowly and showed his all too familiar quirky side in a race which was won by Silviniaco Conti. Better known as a chaser, the Paul Nicholls trained gelding had won his two hurdle starts previous to winning the Coral Hurdle. However, he didn’t stick around over the smaller obstacles for too long as he had just two more starts over timber before enjoying a fruitful chasing career.
The 2011 renewal of the Coral Hurdle proved to be a route for the Donald McCain trained Overturn, who won by a whopping 27 lengths having been left clear at the last by the fall of Oscar Whisky. This was to be the start of a great season for Overturn who won the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth on his next start and went on to finish second to Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle.
Dai Walters and Nicky Henderson gained compensation the following year as Oscar Whisky made all to defeat three rivals.
Girl power resumed in 2013 as the brilliant Annie Power took care of another small field, headed by Zarkandar in the familiar colours of Sullivan Bloodstock. This win led to connections campaigning her over slightly further than idea as she faltered late on in that season’s World Hurdle.
It was Ricci, Mullins and Walsh again in 2014 as the marvellous Faugheen strutted his stuff on the Ascot turf. That season was arguably his best as he remained unbeaten, winning the Christmas Hurdle, Champion Hurdle and Punchestown Champion Hurdle. Not a bad effort.
Another Champion Hurdle winner took the race in 2015. This time it was Harry Fry’s Rock On Ruby who rolled back the years in what was to be his final ever run.
The last two renewals were races fit for a King, or a couple of Kings as the case may be. Alan King took the 2016 running of the Coral Hurdle with Yanworth, while last year’s renewal was won by Lil Rockerfeller, trained by Neil King.
A field of six go to post for the 2018 running of the Coral Hurdle. There has never been a bad winner of the race and here’s hoping this year proves no different.