The Betfair Hurdle has long been regarded as one of the biggest, most lucrative handicap hurdle races to win in the British jumps racing calendar.

The Grade 3 National Hunt hurdle race is open to horses aged four years or older and often attracts a fascinating mix of progressive novice hurdlers, established handicappers and would-be Champion Hurdlers.

It is run at Newbury over a distance of about 2 miles and 110 yards (3,319 metres), and during its running there are eight hurdles to be jumped. It is a handicap race, and it is scheduled to take place each year in February. It currently has a maximum field of 24 runners.

The event was established in 1963, and the inaugural running took place at Aintree. The race was originally sponsored by Schweppes, and it was known as the Schweppes Gold Trophy. Ryan Price won the first two runnings with Rosyth and trained four of the first five winners of the race. After Rosyth’s second win, following four unplaced efforts in between, his jockey was suspended for six weeks and his trainer warned off.[1]More controversy for Price and the Schweppes followed in 1967 when Hill House tested positive for a banned drug. However it was later shown that Hill House had manufactured his own cortisol.[2]

Schweppes’ sponsorship continued until 1986 when it was taken over by Tote Bookmakers (later known as totesport). The race was titled the Tote Gold Trophy from 1987 to 2004, and the totesport Trophy from 2005 to 2011.

Since 2012 the race has been sponsored by Betfair and known as the Betfair Hurdle.

Two winners of the race — Persian War and Make a Stand — subsequently achieved victory in the following month’s Champion Hurdle.

The race has often suffered from the vagaries of winter, but the 1982 renewal was memorable for the outstanding ride the John Francome gave to Donegal Prince, bravely withstanding the challenge of the top class hurdler Eckbalco.

Again the race succumbed to the weather in 1983, but the following year, Ra Nova defied a huge field with a bold front-running performance.

After another two years where the race was abandoned, Neblin won a competitive race in 1987, while the improving grey horse Grey Salute was Champion Hurdle bound after his 1989 victory. A year later Deep Sensation narrowly beat the Irish challenge Joyful Noise, and whilst no match for Kribensis in the 1990 Champion Hurdle, he went on to prove a top class chaser, landing the 1993 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Large Action (nearside) battles with Oh So Risky and Flakey Dove (centre)
Image by www.cranhamphoto.com

Well handicapped novice hurdlers have often played their part in this race and in 1994, Oliver Sherwood’s talented Large Action, followed-up his Challow Hurdle victory at Newbury, with a short head defeat of Oh So Risky, with Flakey Dove in third. The roles were reversed at Cheltenham a month later, as Flakey Dove beat Oh So Risky, with Large Action third in the Champion Hurdle.

There was another high class winner of the race in 1995, as the little mare Mysilv defied heavy ground to beat a smaller than usual field of 8, beating the classy Trying Again and Pridwell.

In 1997 another novice hurdler got his name on the roll of honour. Make A Stand looked to be a progressive young horse having won his three previous contests.

The Martin Pipe trained 6 year old made all and romped away to a 9 length victory before following-up in the Champion Hurdle a month later.

Nicky Henderson had long harboured dreams to finally win a race that had eluded him during his long training career in nearby Lambourn.

His run of defeats finally ended with victory in 1998 thanks to Sharpical. A year later the classy Decoupage was successful, his win sandwiching Henderson domination at the turn of Century, as Geos and Landing Light won the race in 2000 and 2001.

The diminutive Geos was a smart performer, winning a Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle and a Bula Hurdle before turning his attentions to chasing. He was less successful over the bigger obstacles although he did win a Castleford Chase.

Eventually he returned to hurdling and in February 2004, recorded the best win of his career, as he defeated the Champion Hurdle winner Rooster Booster by a short head, with future top class chaser Monkerhostin in third.

Essex proved a classy winner of the race for Ireland the following year but in 2006 the weather saw the race called off.

Trainer Gary Moore took the next two runnings with Heathcote and Wingman and after another abandonment in 2009, the classy novice Get Me Out Of Here won for trainer Jonjo O’Neill, before finishing second to Menorah in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

 

Zarkandar ran third at Cheltenham after a bad blunder
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

It was another novice who prevailed in 2011, as John Quinn’s Recession Proof landed the prize, while in 2012, the top class Zarkandar defied a long absence and carried plenty of weight to win a vintage renewal, beating Get Me Out Of Here, Raya Star and Sire De Grugy, in a race packed full of smart horses.

2013 had started magnificently well for Nicky Henderson, but he suffered a terrible blow at the start of February, when losing the Christmas Hurdle winner Darlan. At the time, Darlan had been prominent among the contenders for the Champion Hurdle and such horses are very hard to replace.

My Tent Or Yours 
Image by www.racehorsephotos.co.uk

Remarkably, before the week was out, a new star had emerged from Seven Barrows, as the novice My Tent Or Yours shrugged aside his inexperience to beat Cotton Mill and another star-studded field by 5 lengths. He would go on to twice finish second in the Champion Hurdle.

Splash Of Ginge
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

Yet another novice hurdler land the 2014 renewal, as Splash Of Ginge and 7 pound claimer Ryan Hatch raced up with the pace throughout before causing a real shock and beating Dell’ Arca by 1 ¾ lengths.

Violet Dancer and Joshua Moore romp home in the Betfair Hurdle
Image by Steven Cargill

Gary Moore’s fine record in the race was further embellished in 2015, as his son Joshua made every yard of the running on Violet Dancer.

Agrapart wins the Betfair Hurdle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Racecourse

The family theme continued in 2016, when Lizzie Kelly rode Agrapart to a clear cut victory for her step father Nick Williams.

Ballyandy
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

A year later the race went once again to a novice hurdler and a familiar trainer.

Ballyandy had won on the Newbury card the year before, en route to landing the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. He went on to win the 2017 Betfair Hurdle for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Kalashnikov with Amy Murphy and Jack Quinlan
Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

The following year, Kalashnikov landed the spoils to give Amy Murphy her biggest victory to date. The five year old novice had run second in the Tolworth Hurdle and filled the same position in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Betfair Hurdle continues to be a fine source of future stars, particularly for novice hurdlers and future chasing talent.

But it also remains one of the most valuable and fiercely contested handicap hurdles in the calendar.

Betfair Hurdle former winners:

1963
Rosyth[1]
5 10-00
Josh Gifford
H. Ryan Price

1964
Rosyth
6 10-02
Josh Gifford
H. Ryan Price

1965
Elan
6 10-07
David Nicholson
John Sutcliffe, jnr

1966
Le Vermontois
5 11-03
Josh Gifford
H. Ryan Price

1967
Hill House
7 10-10
Josh Gifford
H. Ryan Price

1968
Persian War
5 11-13
Jimmy Uttley
Colin Davies

1969
Abandoned because of frost
1970
Abandoned because of snow and frost

1971
Cala Mesquida
7 10-09
J Cook
J E Sutcliffe

1972
Good Review
6 10-09
V O’Brien
Jim Dreaper (Ir)

1973
Indianapolis
6 10-06
Jeff King
J E Sutcliffe

1974
Abandoned because of waterlogged state of course

1975
Tammuz
7 10-13
Bill Smith
Fulke Walwyn

1976
Irish Fashion
5 10-04
Ron Barry
M Cunningham (Ir)

1977
True Lad
7 10-04
Tommy Stack
W Swainson

1978
Abandoned because of frost

1979
Within The Law
5 11-04
Alan Brown
Peter Easterby

1980
Bootlaces
6 10-09
Paul Leach
David Barons

no race 1981

1982
Donegal Prince
6 10-08
John Francome
Paul Kelleway

no race 1983 [2]

1984
Ra Nova
5 10-06
Paddy Farrell
Nan Kennedy

no race 1985–86 [3]

1987
Neblin
8 10-00
Stan Moore
Toby Balding

1988
Jamesmead
7 10-00
Brendan Powell
David Elsworth

1989
Grey Salute
6 11-05
Richard Dunwoody
John Jenkins

1990
Deep Sensation
5 11-03
Richard Rowe
Josh Gifford

no race 1991 [4]

1992
Rodeo Star
6 10-10
Graham McCourt
Nigel Tinkler

1993
King Credo
8 10-00
Adrian Maguire
Steve Woodman

1994
Large Action
6 10-08
Jamie Osborne
Oliver Sherwood

1995
Mysilv
5 10-08
Jamie Osborne
Charles Egerton

1996
Squire Silk
7 10-12
Paul Carberry
Andrew Turnell

1997
Make A Stand
6 11-07
Chris Maude
Martin Pipe

1998
Sharpical
6 11-01
Mick Fitzgerald
Nicky Henderson

1999
Decoupage
7 11-00
Jimmy McCarthy
Charles Egerton

2000
Geos
5 11-03
Mick Fitzgerald
Nicky Henderson

2001
Landing Light
6 10-02
Mick Fitzgerald
Nicky Henderson

2002
Copeland
7 11-07
Tony McCoy
Martin Pipe

2003
Spirit Leader
7 10-00
Norman Williamson
Jessica Harrington

2004
Geos
9 10-09
Marcus Foley
Nicky Henderson

2005
Essex
5 11-06
Barry Geraghty
Michael O’Brien

no race 2006 [4]

2007
Heathcote
5 10-06
Jamie Moore
Gary Moore

2008
Wingman
6 10-00
Jamie Moore
Gary Moore

no race 2009 [5]

2010
Get Me Out of Here
6 10-06
Tony McCoy
Jonjo O’Neill

2011
Recession Proof
5 10-08
Dougie Costello
John Quinn

2012
Zarkandar
5 11-01
Ruby Walsh
Paul Nicholls

2013
My Tent Or Yours
6 11-02
Tony McCoy
Nicky Henderson

2014
Splash Of Ginge
6 10-10
Ryan Hatch
Nigel Twiston-Davies

2015
Violet Dancer
5 10-09
Josh Moore
Gary Moore

2016
Agrapart
5 10-05
Lizzie Kelly
Nick Williams

2017
Ballyandy
6 11-01
Sam Twiston-Davies
Nigel Twiston-Davies

2018
Kalashnikov
5 11-05
Jack Quinlan
Amy Murphy

1 The 1963 running took place at Aintree.
2 The 1983 running was abandoned due to snow and frost.
3 It was cancelled in 1985 because of snow and frost, and in 1986 because of snow.
4 The 1991 and 2006 editions were both abandoned due to frost.
5 The 2009 race was cancelled because of snow.