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Sire Sadler's Wells
Dam Betty's Secret
Damsire Secretariat
Gender Gelding
Foaled 1992
Country Ireland
Color Bay
Breeder Shadwell Estate Co.
Owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum
John P. McManus
Trainer Aidan O'Brien
Record 40: 25-7-0
Earnings £1,053,385
Istabraq is a thoroughbred racehorse out of Betty's Secret by Sadler's Wells. He was born around 1992 in Ireland, and was bred by Shadwell Estate Co..
Major wins
Champion Hurdle (1998, 1999, 2000)
Irish Champion Hurdle (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001)
Future Champions Novice Hurdle (1996)
Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (1996)
Deloitte Novice Hurdle (1997)
Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle (1997)
Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle (1997)
Hatton's Grace Hurdle (1997, 1998)
December Festival Hurdle (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)
Aintree Hurdle (1999)
Punchestown Champion Hurdle (1999)
John James McManus Memorial Hurdle (1997, 1998, 1999)
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)
Last updated on December 18, 2006

Istabraq (born 23 May 1992) is a retired Irish Thoroughbred racehorse who was most famous for his hurdling. He had an exceptional pedigree, being the produce of Sadler's Wells, a son of Northern Dancer, and a Secretariat mare making him a three-quarter brother to Epsom Derby winner Secreto. He won the Champion Hurdle three times. He was trained by Aidan O'Brien and owned by John Patrick McManus. Jockey Charlie Swan rode him on all of his 29 races over jumps.

Early life

He was bred for the flat, by Sadler's Wells who won the Irish 2,000 Guineas over 1 mile. Istabraq was tried unsuccessfully over a mile and failed to please his handlers and owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Shadwell Racing and a partner in his family's Godolphin Stables.

Istabraq was sold to John Durkan who had been an assistant to John Gosden. He thought that Istabraq could win a Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and would not hear of the contrary. Durkan started training the horse but was diagnosed with leukemia. He suggested that Aidan O'Brien train the horse while he was ill. The agreement was that when Durkan recovered he would again train the horse. Sadly, he never got the chance to do so and died just before Istabraq won the 1998 Irish Champion Hurdle. O'Brien continued to train the horse afterwards. However, Durkan remained in the thoughts of the horse's connections. When riding the horse back after his 1998 Champion Hurdle win, jockey Charlie Swan said 'This one's for John' in an interview with Channel 4's Lesley Graham.

Istabraq was beaten in his hurdling debut, finishing a short head second of ten over two miles. He then won his next three races before taking the 2m5f Royal & Sun Alliance Novice hurdle at Cheltenham with a battling display. He ran one more time that season, beating the Sun Alliance 5th Soldat by 9 lengths at Punchestown.

The next season went like clockwork up to and including Cheltenham, where he confirmed himself the best two mile hurdler around with an astonishing 12L victory. Istabraq was unexpectedly beaten at Aintree in his next race but this was no doubt due to the desperately heavy ground. He did not race again that season.

If the previous season was about fulfilling the promise he had shown by proving himself the best novice, then as the reigning champion hurdler this one was about continuing the domination he had over the 2 mile (3,200 m) hurdling division. The story was exactly the same - he went unbeaten through the season and danced up the Cheltenham hill in March for his second champion hurdle. Could he go on and join the likes of Persian War and See You Then as 3-time winners. There seemed little reason why not although the novice race at Cheltenham that year was won by Hors La Loi III in a time two seconds faster than the champion hurdle. The season was finished off with wins at the Aintree and Punchestown festivals respectively.

The 1999/2000 season would confirm what most of the racing public already knew - that Istabraq was one of the greatest hurdlers of modern times and possibly ever. Apart from being turned over by Limestone Lad (on unsuitably soft ground and over a trip more suited to Limestone), his preparation for Cheltenham went perfectly. On the big day, he cruised around the inside before once again bursting up the hill to win by 4 lengths from Hors La Loi III. Istabraq had recorded an incredible fourth straight win at Cheltenham. He was put away for the season and at only 8 years old there seemed little to stop him becoming the only horse ever to win 4 champion hurdles and confirming himself the greatest ever two mile hurdler.

On his reappearance at Leopardstown the following season, Istabraq looked slightly heavier than usual. Shockingly, he fell for the first time ever when looking tired at the final flight. It was probably a combination of the extra weight and dire ground but nevertheless rumors that the champion may be on his way out were rife. His next run put paid to the speculation as he won comfortably although the winner of the race in which he fell, Moscow Flyer, had this time fallen himself. However it was the fact that this time the mighty triple champion seemed to have regained his invincible aura that eased the worries of his now massive army of fans. His next race was a little like deja vu as he again fell at the final flight, with Moscow Flyer again taking the race. The difference this time was that, unlike on his reappearance, he looked all over the winner before coming to grief. This race proved again that Istabraq was on course for his historic date with destiny at Cheltenham.

Disaster struck before the 2001 festival, as cases of foot and mouth disease started to appear in Britain. The grave decision was taken to abort the festival. This was the beginning of the end for the great horse. When hot favourite for an unparalleled 4th champion hurdle his chance was cruelly taken from him. He did reappear the following season but it seemed that the sands of time had finally caught up with him. He defeated Bust Out by a head in December, but rated 25 lb (11.4 kg) superior would have been expected to have a lot more in hand. This was not how it was meant to be.

On the day, Istabraq took his chance at making history. However his jockey was never happy with him and before the race had even took shape he was pulled up. Charlie Swan said he was never happy with him and he was later found to have pulled muscles in his back. Despite this, and the huge sums of money that were placed on him that day, the Cheltenham crowd still gave him a standing ovation as he bowed out. The great horse had finally reached the end of his epic journey. The race itself was won by Hors La Loi III but the unlucky Valiramix was simply cruising 3f out before fatally falling after clipping hooves.


  • Istabraq - The Quest for Greatness (video)

See also


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