Racing: O'Brien hails his conquering hero

Istabraq's second Champion Hurdle win thrusts the equine idol from Ballydoyle into the realm of legend and song. By Andrew Longmore

IT TAKES a proper crack to open up the absurdly serious young face of Aidan O'Brien. In victory or defeat, he always manages to look like a man who's just mislaid his wallet. Standing self-consciously on the victory rostrum yesterday, with J P McManus and Charlie Swan, O'Brien broke into a rare smile to acknowledge a chorus of Irish voices which broke through the mayhem of the winners' enclosure.

Commemoration in song is the ultimate accolade for any Irish champion and, in just under four minutes of blistering action, Istabraq had more than earned his tribute.

"We've had Monksfield, Night Nurse and Dawn Run Danoli and Derrymoyle. But they'd find it hard to beat this one Istabraq from Ballydoyle."

Words by Maurice Curran and Garry Lyons of Dublin, to be sung to a traditional Irish air. Inspiration courtesy of a swag bag full of bookmakers' cash and a few beers on a recent flight back from San Francisco. Istabraq from Ballydoyle. There was never much danger of the words being wasted at Cheltenham yesterday. "Billy Bunter could ride this one," Charlie Swan had told Maurice Curran at Leopardstown recently. They had won a hatful on him last year at 3-1 and piled into the 1-2 on offer yesterday until the bookmakers realised the error of their ways and sent him off at 4-9, the shortest priced favourite for the Champion Hurdle for 45 years. "Cause he won't be passed when he's jumped the last, Istabraq from Ballydoyle.''

But there was more to the tumultuous welcome Istabraq received than could be recorded in rhyming couplets. Dawn Run and Jonjo O'Neill raised the roof when he completed the double of Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, little Monksfield galloped his way into the fretwork of Cheltenham history and Danoli, though just short of the top class, and his country trainer, Tom Foley, became the unwitting symbol of Ireland's equestrian genius. But Istabraq is different. His pedigree is aristocratic, his owner one of the richest men in Ireland and his trainer plies his trade from a purpose- built equine palace. His claims to democracy stem from the pocket and there can be no broader constituency.

A year ago, Istabraq was running for the health of the Exchequer and those whose fortunes had been made greeted him in the usually raucous fashion. Yesterday, the bid was more noble than another snatch and grab raid on the bookies' satchels. "Ready to join the greats," the morning headline read. As the familiar green and gold colours moved nonchalantly on to the heels of the early leaders, every powerhouse stride propelled Istabraq further into exalted realms and the crowd, mindless of the betting slips in their pockets, responded to the thrilling sight of a champion's crowning with a robust simplicity. Swan raised an index finger to denote what most had known long before and a green scarf was hurled high into the blue Cheltenham sky.

In truth, the real danger came not from the other 12 horses in a field reduced to trotters long before the final burst up the hill, but the weight of the history books and the threat of a ricked neck for Swan, who twice before the final flight flicked a disdainful look at the stragglers behind. There had been brave talk of revenge from French Holly's connections, reduced to nothing more than paper talk once Swan had set sail for home two flights out.

The statistics will tell you that Istabraq is the first successful defending champion since See You Then, who won three in a row in the 1980s, but the more disconcerting truth for prospective British challengers is that the seven-year-old's best might still be to come. In that whispering way of his, O'Brien had been warning us about it for a while. His one worry - and his fresh face does not betray many sleepless nights - was that Istabraq's gathering speed might somehow impede his stamina. It was the slenderest of threads on which to hang any coherent opposition and the bookmakers knew it. The weighing-room had given up long ago.

In the post-race interview, McManus, Swan and O'Brien mumbled sweet nothings into the microphone, though inner emotions must have run high. "I must pay tribute to Aidan and everyone else back at Ballydoyle about how well Istabraq always looks. Whenever I see him, at home or on the gallops, he never has a hair out of place," McManus said in a rare burst of eloquence. They have no real need to sing Istabraq's praises. Others have taken care of that. "For he's our hero from old Ireland, Istabraq from Ballydoyle."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'