Hardy Eustace proved unbeatable in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park for the second year in a row, leading for much of the race and holding off a late challenge from Harchibald to win with a brave and memorable performance.
The defending champion begun the race as 7-2 joint-favourite and quickly took a commanding position at the head of the field under Connor O’Dwyer.
Other members of Ireland’s “magnificent seven”, including Essex, Brave Inca and Back In Front, were all well positioned throughout the race, but as they jumped the last it was Harchibald who looked set to snatch victory. He was cruising well under jockey Paul Carberry, but was found wanting up Cheltenham’s demanding final run-in, allowing Hardy Eustace to draw ahead.
Hardy Eustace’s delighted trainer Dessie Hughes told Radio 5 Live: “That was fabulous. I didn’t think I would be so lucky to win a second one. We will be back next year.”
The Irish crowds, who had been somewhat subdued after Irish runners failed to win the opening two races of the day, noisily showed their appreciation for O’Dwyer as he returned to the winner’s enclosure. “He is an unbelievable horse,” O’Dwyer told Radio 5 Live. “We didn’t go as quickly as last year and I thought I was going to be caught at the line, but he never gives up.”
1. Hardy Eustace (C O’Dwyer) 7-2JF
2. Harchibald (P Carberry) 7-1
3. Brave Inca (BM Cash) 10-1