A Cheltenham Festival favourite, Istabraq managed to land no fewer than three Champion Hurdles in his time and is a legend of the sport.
Istabraq was bred at Sheikh Hamdan’s famous Shadwell operation as a Flat horse on May 23rd, 1992. He is by the great Sadler’s Wells who produced greats Montjeu, Old Vic, Opera House and, best of all, Galileo in that sphere.
Sadler’s Wells has not exactly proven to be too shabby over the jumps either. As well as Istabraq, he is responsible for Grade 2 hurdle winner Theatreworld and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised.
Istabraq is that standout name on the list however and easily the best hurdler in this pedigree.
|Sire/Dam||Grand Sire/Dam||Great Grand Sire/Dam|
|Sadler’s Wells||Northern Dancer||Nearctic|
|Fairy Bridge||Bold Reason|
|Betty’s Secret||Secretariat||Bold Ruler|
|Betty Balfour||Decent Fellow|
The rest of Betty’s Secret’s progeny really did nothing of any note, Istabraq’s full brother Mutamanni being placed only twice and never winning from 11 starts.
Istabraq made his debut on the Flat as a two-year-old in November 1994 at Doncaster, finishing down the field before returning as a three-year-old.
In all, he ran 11 times on the Flat, winning twice and reaching a mark of 84. That is a fair enough rating, but connections will have expected much more given his pedigree.
Though still a colt, he wasn’t seen as a great stallion option due to his form and so he was sold to John Durkan with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.
Durkan began training the horse but fell ill, with Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien taking over on behalf of JP McManus. Unfortunately, Durkan died and so the horse remained with O’Brien for his jumps career.
Istabraq began his new life as a novice hurdler in November, 1996. He was narrowly beaten on debut at Punchestown in a bumper before being gelded to go hurdling, winning three in a row ahead of the 1997 Cheltenham Festival. He won the RSA Hurdle and was immediately a jumping hero.
The now five-year-old won another four races on the bounce at the start of the next season, making him favourite for the 1998 Champion Hurdle. Previous runner-up Theatreworld, another Sadler’s Wells offspring, was in the field. He went on to beat Theatreworld by some 12 lengths.
He finished his season by narrowly losing out at Aintree on ground that was considered too soft.
Looking more and more like a hurdling machine, Istabraq again started a season in 1998/99 by winning four in a row. That led to him being favourite again for the Champion Hurdle in which he beat Theatreworld again at 4/9.
Being kept busy in the spring of 1999, he managed two more Grade 1 hurdle wins by taking the Aintree Hurdle and then the Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
Returning in October 1999, Istabraq won at Tipperary before losing out to Limestone Lad at Fairyhouse in the Hatton’s Grace on soft ground. Despite this, he was yet again favourite for the 2000 Champion Hurdle.
This time around, he beat Hors La Loi II by four lengths making it his fourth win in a row at the Cheltenham Festival and his third Champion Hurdle, the reason he’s considered as one of the greats. He didn’t race again that season.
Now an eight-year-old and about to turn nine, it was left until December 2000 for Istabraq to return at Leopardstown. Entering a tough battle with future great Moscow Flyer, Istabraq suffered the first of his two career falls, each time with the same horse beating him.
After winning at Leopardstown Istabraq looked a shoo-in for a fourth Champion Hurdle in 2001, however the festival was cancelled due to foot and mouth disease. He went to Leopardstown instead where he fell and was then put away for the season as the ante-post favourite for the 2002 Champion Hurdle.
In December 2001 he won the Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown again, only just, with his next race being a fourth attempt at the Champion Hurdle.
There was an alarming drift for Istabraq in the betting, out to 2/1 but still favourite. After only two hurdles of the race, Charlie Swan pulled him up with the horse having lost his action. All eyes remained on him despite Hors La Loi III winning the race and he was retired with immediate effect.
Istabraq’s biggest wins:
|Date||Race||Won By (Runner-Up)||SP|
|12/03/97||RSA Novices’ Hurdle, Cheltenham||1 length, Mighty Moss||6/5|
|30/11/97||Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Fairyhouse||2 lengths, Cockney Lad||1/3|
|17/03/98||Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham||12 lengths, Theatreworld||3/1|
|29/11/98||Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Fairyhouse||½ length, Nomadic||1/5|
|16/03/99||Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham||3½ lengths, Theatreworld||4/9|
|10/04/99||Aintree Hurdle, Aintree||1 length, French Holly||1/2|
|30/04/99||Champion Hurdle, Punchestown||3½ lengths, Decoupage||1/2|
|14/03/00||Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham||4 lengths, Hors La Loi III||8/15|
Istabraq’s total earnings on the track were £1,053,385. In 2022 money, that would amount to around £1.8 million.
As with many National Hunt horses, his win and place prize money earnings probably don’t represent how good he was on the track.
Istabraq was bred, as mentioned, by Hamdan Al Maktoum’s operation at Shadwell. The plan would be for him to have been a Flat racehorse, then a stallion.
He began his racing career with John Gosden, still challenging for Flat trainers’ championships now, and was ridden Sheikh Hamdan’s jockeys, primarily Willie Carson.
He was sold to be trained by John Durkan, but then owner JP McManus kept him with Aidan O’Brien after Durkan’s untimely death. He was ridden in every one of his jumps races by jockey Charlie Swan.