As far as National Hunt racing is concerned, the ‘Timeform era’ began with the publication of the first Timeform Black Book in that sphere in 1962. Consequently, the Timeform era excludes such post-war luminaries as National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken who, collectively, won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival eight years running between 1947 and 1954.
However, Timeform Annual Ratings provide as reliable a measure as any of the relative merits of hurdlers from the late twentieth century onwards. Leading the way, according to the respected ratings organisation, is Night Nurse, trained by Peter Easterby, who won the Champion Hurdle in 1976 and 1977 – on the latter occasion beating what the Racing Post described as the ‘strongest of fields ever assembled’ – and was awarded a Timeform Annual Rating of 182.
Indeed, it is difficult to argue with the assertion of the Racing Post because second in the 1977 renewal of the Champion Hurdle was Monksfield, trained by Des McDonogh, who would win the prestigious hurdling event in 1978 and 1979; in so doing, Monksfield would earn a Timeform Annual Rating of 180, which places him joint-second on the all-time Timeform list. Sharing second position is the triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq, trained by Aidan O’Brien, who lifted the hurdling crown, on both sides of the Irish Sea, in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and was robbed of the opportunity to do so again in 2001, when the Cheltenham Festival was abandoned, in its entirety, due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run, as a steeplechase, in 1924 but, surprisingly, the winner of what is, nowadays, the most prestigious race in the British National Hunt calendar has been disqualified just once. The unfortunate horse in question was Tied Cottage, trained by Dan Moore and ridden by Tommy Carberry, who made all the running to beat Master Smudge by eight lengths in the 1980 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, a post-race urine test revealed a minute trace of theobromine, a prohibited substance that has physiological effects similar to caffeine, believed to have come from a batch of contaminated foodstuff, and Tied Cottage was disqualified in favour of the runner-up at a subsequent enquiry. The disqualification was a ‘double whammy’ for connections, who had seen Tied Cottage fall at the final fence the previous year, handing the Cheltenham Gold Cup to Alverton.
In more recent years, controversy reigned when Lord Windermere, trained by Jim Culloty and ridden by Davy Russell, won the 2014 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup by a short head from On His Own, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by David Casey. In the closing stages, Russell delivered Lord Windermere with a determined challenge but, in so doing, drifted sharply to the right, carrying On His Own with him. The stewards enquired into the result and, although they admitted that On His Own was impeded on his run to the line, they ruled that he suffered only ‘minor interference’, which did not, in their opinion, affect the result.