Racing: Hardy Eustace clings on to crown as Harchibald blows big chance

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The Independent Online

It was a thumping Champion Hurdle finish at the start of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday, when only utmost steeliness allowed Hardy Eustace to retain his crown. If the passion continues like this, it is going to take similar fortitude from spectators to survive the first four-day Festival.

It was a thumping Champion Hurdle finish at the start of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday, when only utmost steeliness allowed Hardy Eustace to retain his crown. If the passion continues like this, it is going to take similar fortitude from spectators to survive the first four-day Festival.

The Champion Hurdle was, as billed, virtually a hooley, with Hardy Eustace leading home a quintet of Irish runners. But how he had to work for it, repelling his compatriots Harchibald and Brave Inca by a neck and a neck.

There now beckons the prospect of a hat-trick and racing veneration, as Hardy Eustace chases the achievement of Ireland's last great hurdler, Istabraq. "His jumping was something else today," Dessie Hughes, the trainer, said. "He's as good as we've seen for a long time. Since Istabraq anyway."

The essential drama of the Champion was that Hardy Eustace was able to keep at bay a runner-up who was travelling so much easier until inches from the line. There was family compensation, however, for Harch-ibald's rider, Paul Carberry, when his sister, Nina, later won the last race on the card.

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