The Triple Crown of Hurdling is one of the biggest attractions of the jump season in the UK. It’s highly prestigious and comes with some of the best Grade 1 hurdling races that the country has to offer.
The prestige is underlined even more by the fact that since 2010 it’s still been running successfully but without the bonus money that used to be on offer. This highlights that even though there is no additional money to be won (horses will still get the prize money from each of the races) it’s one that many of the elite still target to this day.
The Triple Crown of Hurdling has been running since 1979. The three races that are included are that of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Each of the races is very similar, which is why they are linked in the Triple Crown and therefore attract very similar fields as a result.
Prize money has not always been a part of the Triple Crown of Hurdling, but in fairly recent times it has attracted some sponsorship deals which raised the profile.
This came in the form of the betting exchange, WBX. In 2006 it was announced that they would become main sponsors of the event and in return would put up a reward of £1 million for any horse that wins all three races in the same season. This would make it the richest prize fund n hurdling history at the time.
The idea was that the bonus money would be paid out to all those involved with the horse. The owner got the largest share at 70%, with 15% to the trainer, 10% to the stable lad and 5% to the stable staff. Interestingly, none of the bonus money went to the jockey, which is rare for these types of awards.
WBX ran it from 2006 through to 2010. They later went out of business but throughout their time never had to pay any bonus money as no horses were able to win the elusive Triple Crown.
Since then no sponsorship deals have been arranged and therefore, it now runs without any prize money. That being said, the winner of all three races will pick up close to £400,000 in prize money alone, so it’s still highly lucrative.
What’s the Form of the Races Involved?
There are three races involved which include:
To win the Triple Crown of Hurdling a horse must win each of these races in the same season. Any horse that qualifies for the first race at Newcastle will be in with a chance of winning the overall award.
Whilst each is highly respected races in their own right, there would be few that would argue that the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham is the standout race of the three. This is one of the main reasons as to why there have only been 2 winners over the years. The field for the Champion Hurdle goes up a notch in terms of class compared to the first two races.
Let’s take a look at how each of the races works:
Fighting Fifth Hurdle – Newcastle
The Fighting Fifth takes place in late November to early December. Even though the hurdle season will be in full flow by then, it’s seen as one of the early highlights of the season and it’s a race that many trainers will target with horses that have shown early promise in their career to take the next step.
It’s a race that has been running since 1969 and it takes place over 2m 98y, open to four-year-old horses and older. It comes with a purse of £110,000 with 1st place getting £61,897 of that money. The race has had its Grade 1 status since 2004 and even though it’s a part of the Triple Crown of Hurdling, is very much seen as a curtain-raiser for potential horses to run at the Cheltenham Festival.
There are two standout horses in the race’s history which comes in the form of Comedy of Errors and Birds Nest, both winning this race 3 times each throughout the seventies. In more recent times, Buveur d’Air is probably the start name here, winning twice in 2017 and 2018. However, other notables include Go Native, Punjabi, Straw Bear, Harchibald and Overturn.
Christmas Hurdle – Kempton
Like the Fighting fifth, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park Racecourse has also been running since 1969. It comes in dead on 2 miles and takes place as part of the Boxing Day meeting, sharing the limelight with the King George VI race.
It’s another Grade 1 National Hunt race and again is one of the highest-profile races of the season. The purse of £130,000 means that first place will pick up £74,035. It’s had some of the world’s best hurdlers run the race and with it include the likes of Coral Diver (first multiple winners), Kribensis, Harchibald, Binocular, Faugheen, Buver d’Air, Go Native and Intersky Falcon.
Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham
Not only is the Champion Hurdle the biggest of the three races, but it’s also the most lucrative. It comes with a purse of £450,000, and a 1st place cheque of £253,215. This is more than the other two races combined.
The Champion Hurdle is a firm favourite as part of the Cheltenham Festival which takes place in March. The race itself is run over 2m 87y and attracts horses from all over the world to come and compete. It’s generally thought that any winner of the race will go down in hurdling history. The likes of National Sprint, Istabraq and Lanzarote, who are all previous winners, now have races named in their honour as a result.
The race has been running since 1927 and in that time has had some of the best hurdlers to have ever raced win it. Istabraq, See You Then, Persona War, Sir Ken and Hatton’s Grace are 5 horses that have won this race an incredible three times, more than any other. Ruby Walsh and Tim Molony have the record for most jockey wins with 4 apiece and the leading trainer is that of Nicky Henderson, with 7 wins in total.
Other notable winners include Buveur d’Air, Annie Power, Hurricane Fly, Rock on Ruby, Binocular, Jezki, Punjabi, Brave Inca and Collier Bay.
Winners and Close Calls
There have only been two winners of the Triple Crown of Hurdling since its inauguration in 1979. The first was that of Kribensis, a grey Irish horse that was trained by Sir Michael Stoute. The other is a lot more recent and comes in the form of Buveur d’Air, who managed the feat in 2017/18.
Buveur d’Air is an incredible horse and won the Champion Hurdle the year before winning it to claim the Triple Crown, meaning that he won 4 in a row in total. It’s likely that the horse, trained by Nicky Henderson, is going to go down as one of the all-time greats. As it stands, they’ve already won the Top Novices’ Hurdle, Champion hurdle twice, Aintree Hurdle, Fighting Fifth Hurdle twice and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in 2019 to name but a few.
Whilst there hasn’t been many winners and almost 30 years between the two that have won, there has been several close calls. Winners of both the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle include Landing Light, Intersky Falcon, Harchibald, Go Native and My Tent or Yours.