Aidan O’Brien is known for his huge level of success throughout the flat racing world, but the Ballydoyle trainer helped produce a superstar two-mile hurdler in the nineties; Istabraq.
However, after only landing two victories in the flat sphere, John Durkan spotted his potential as a hurdler and convinced McManus to pay 38,000 guineas for the horse.
Durkan was lined up to train the son of Sadler’s Well, but he was unfortunately diagnosed with leukemia and O’Brien was given the task of training Istabraq temporarily.
After winning five of his six starts as a novice including the Baring Bingham (Ballymore) Novices’ Hurdle in the 1996/97 season, Istabraq remained in the hurdles division.
He won his first three starts with ease the following season but four days before the 1998 Irish Champion Hurdle, Durkan sadly passed away at the age of 31.
There were fears that Istabraq would not have the speed to contest the prestigious two-mile contest, but he cast those doubts aside with arguably one of his best performances of his career.
The gelding travelled well throughout the race and took command when taking the lead at three out.
Charlie Swan kicked his mount on and Istabraq cleared away, claiming a 12-length victory from stablemate Theatreworld.
Swan struggled to hold back the tears in the post-race interview, stating “This is for John.”
Istabraq went on to win the next two renewals of the Champion Hurdle, as well as claiming another three victories in the Irish edition of the contest.