Istabraq: an emotional backstory and an out-and-out champion *H&H Plus*

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  • The treble Champion Hurdle winner with extraordinary jumping ability was arguably robbed of an unrivalled fourth success. Julian Muscat tells the remarkable story of Istabraq

    Sometimes it is all about the horse, with a passing nod to trainer and jockey. But the tale of an equine legend is greatly enhanced when it extends to a human dimension. It can embrace romance, or triumph over adversity. In the case of Istabraq, it was all about poignancy.

    Istabraq’s story was interwoven with the all-too-brief life of John Durkan, who bought the horse as a four-year-old out of John Gosden’s Newmarket stable, where he’d worked as Gosden’s assistant. It was 1996 and Durkan, who recognised Istabraq’s latent talent, had just taken out his own licence. Then he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

    He underwent treatment as Istabraq’s new career over hurdles took flight under Aidan O’Brien, to whom he’d been entrusted in Durkan’s absence. Some 15 months after Durkan bought him, and with Istabraq an odds-on favourite to win the Irish Champion Hurdle, Durkan was laid to rest, aged just 31.

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