Racing: Memories stir of a wonderful War: Chris Corrigan on the Champion Hurdler whose achievements are honoured tomorrow

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The Independent Online
TWENTY-FIVE years on and time to revive due reverence for Persian War. Three consecutive victories in the Champion Hurdle, the first of them in 1968, were the high points of a career that was glorious in adversity.

Tomorrow, the Persian War Hurdle is run at Chepstow, where he was trained to win all three titles. In Newmarket, where he died nine years ago, a headstone marks the spot where they buried his heart at the Genesis Green Stud. That heart was some creation.

On the Flat, trained by Dick Hern, Persian War had been moderate. But, switched to jumping with Tom Masson, he soon began collecting first prizes. Unfortunately, he also acquired a new owner, the late Henry Alper.

Alper's overbearing enthusiasm for this, his first horse, took the form of damaging interference, indicated by Persian War changing stables five times. Within two months of Alper buying him in January 1967 for pounds 10,000, Persian War had taken the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when trained by Brian Swift. Not long afterwards, Alper sent the horse to France.

Colin Davies was subsequently asked to take over and the Chepstow trainer travelled to Chantilly late that year. He was shocked by what he found. 'A madman, wearing breeches with huge checks, had been in charge of him. Persian War was in this vast box, freezing cold. He was a sick horse.'

Back in Gwent, nursed back to health, and then ridden by Davies at exercise, Persian War was aimed at the Schweppes Hurdle at Newbury. Carrying 11st 13lb he beat Ryan Price's Major Rose by half- a-length, a weight-carrying record that still stands today. The following month, he won his first Champion Hurdle by four lengths with regular rider Jimmy Uttley patting Persian War's head on the uphill run to the line.

At the start of the next season, Persian War slipped at Worcester and fractured a femur. Confined to his box for four weeks, he was unable to race until he reappeared in the Lonsdale Hurdle at Kempton in February.

It was his win there, carrying 12st 7lb when only three-quarters fit, that first elevated Persian War to the very highest regard. Some seasoned observers described it as the finest performance by any jumper since Arkle.

A month later, Persian War recovered from a pre-Cheltenham injury scare to take his second title by four lengths. Alper, who landed bets worth pounds 25,000, collapsed to the ground.

But Alper, an insurance loss assessor, wanted the horse, then a six-year-old, to run on the Flat too. On one infamous occasion, when Persian War was starting his build-up to a third title, Alper had him running on exceptionally hard ground in an autumn Flat race at Newbury, directly against the wishes of the stable.

Persian War threw a splint in his near-fore and jarred a joint in his off-fore. He was lame for more than a month but the interruption failed to stop him emulating Hatton's Grace and Sir Ken by taking the hurdling crown at Cheltenham for a third time.

'I think he was the greatest hurdler we have seen,' says Davies, who rode in the 1964 Grand National and is not given to hyperbole. 'To say that he was the greatest is, of course, a subjective view. But objectively you can give him that status because of his record.'

In the span of five years, the horse won a Triumph Hurdle, three Champion Hurdles (on firm, heavy and good ground) and then, in a fourth Champion attempt, finished a heroic second to Bula when again below top condition.

He was trained for that 1971 Champion Hurdle by Arthur Pitt, who took over after Davies had broken with Alper over an issue of principle. It had been a desperately hurtful decision for Davies to take - he and his wife Helena were immensely fond of this good- natured, top class horse - but the trainer told Alper to remove all his seven horses from the stable.

After that, the horse was again on the move to other yards, eventually winning for the 18th and last time - a race at Stratford, worth pounds 374, in June 1972. Retirement came only after injury during a failed attempt by Alper to send Persian War steeplechasing.

Cheltenham, where he had been so dominant, recently opened a Hall of Fame, installing four horses as founder members: Golden Miller, Arkle, Dawn Run and Sir Ken. The name of Persian War should have made it five.

(Photograph omitted)

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