The Queen Mother Champion Chase was inaugurated, as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, in 1959, before being renamed in 1980 to commemorate the eightieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. In its history, a total of twelve horses, including Sprinter Sacre – the third highest-rated steeplechaser in the history of Timeform, behind only Arkle and Flying Bolt – have won the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice. However, just one has won the two-mile steeplechasing championship three times.
The horse in question was, of course, Badsworth Boy, who was trained at Poplar House Stables in Harewood, West Yorkshire by three different members of the Dickinson family. On the first occasion he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in 1983, Badsworth Boy was saddled by Michael Dickinson, who had taken over the training licence from his father, Tony, three years earlier. Badsworth won by a ‘distance’ – later measured as 36 lengths – from Artifice and stable companion Rathgorman.
Michael Dickinson was still at the helm when Badsworth Boy followed up in 1984, beating the enigmatic Little Bay by 10 lengths. However, by the time Badsworth Boy lined up, as a 10-year-old, for his hat-trick attempt in 1985, Michael Dickinson had departed Poplar House Stables for pastures new – as private trainer to Robert Sangster at Manton, Wiltshire – and handed his licence on to his mother, Monica. Nevertheless, under the watchful eye of ‘Mrs. D.’, Batchworth Boy, who was suffering from arthritis and othe ailments, beat Far Bridge by 10 lengths to earn a place in Cheltenham Festival folklore.
Irish billionaire John Patrick McManus, almost invariably known in horse racing circles as ‘J.P.’, is far and away the most successful owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, with 66 winners to his name. Nevertheless, even by his own exalted standards, McManus enjoyed a remarkable Festival in 2020.
On Tuesday, March 10, his 69th birthday, he won the Champion Hurdle with Epatante. The following day, a dramatic success for Champ in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase initiated a 1,019/1 four-timer for the famous green and gold hooped colours and, even then, McManus was left to rue the ‘one that got away’; Defi Du Seul was sent off 2/5 favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase but, inexplicably, was never travelling and trailed in a well-beaten fourth of five finishers. However, McManus added two more winners to his lifetime total later in the week, making seven in all, which was, once again, more than enough to take home the Leading Owner award.
Back to the Champion Hurdle specifically, though, and it should come as no surprise that McManus is the leading owner in the history of the two-mile hurdling championship, win nine wins in all, dating back to 1998. His first three victories came courtesy of Istabraq – the joint second highest rated hurdler of all time, according to Timeform – who completed a hat-trick in 1998, 1999 and 2000; his other winners to date were Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014), Buveur D’Air (2017 and 2018), Espoir D’Allen (2019) and Epatante (2020).
William Peter ‘Willie’ Mullins is, of course, the son of Paddy Mullins, the legendary trainer best remembered for saddling Dawn Run to win the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986. Indeed, Willie Mullins worked as assistant trainer to his father and another Irish giant, Coolcullen handler Jim Bolger, before taking out a training licence in his own right in 1988.
Willie Mullins followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship for the first time in 2000/01. He has been the perennial Irish champion trainer since 2007/08 and, at the time of writing, tops the table once again in 2021/22, with over €581,000 in hand of his nearest rival, Gordon Elliott.
As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, Mullins saddled his first winner, Tourist Attraction, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995 and has since become the most successful trainer in the history of the March showpiece, with 78 winners. Outright, he is the leading trainer in the history of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle, Broadway Novices’ Chase, Champion Bumper, Ryanair Chase, Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Martin Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and Golden Miller Novices’ Chase. Mullins is also, jointly, the leading trainer in the history of the County Handicap Hurdle. Mullins has won the leading trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival eight times, including the last three in a row, in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The short answer is yes, he did. The Champion Bumper, or Weatherbys Champion Bumper, as it has been known, for sponsorship purposes, since 1997, is the most prestigious race of its kind in the British National Hunt calendar. Run over 2 miles and 87 yards on the Old Course at Cheltenham, the Champion Bumper is officially a ‘National Hunt Flat Race’ and, as such, is contested from time to time by jockeys better known in the sphere of Flat racing.
One such jockey is Tipperary-born Jamie Spencer, who has won the Flat Jockeys’ Championship on both sides of the Irish Sea and ridden well over 2,000 winners. However, in 2002, Spencer was recruited by Irish trainer Edward O’Grady to ride his unbeaten five-year-old Pizarro in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
Sent off at 14/1, Pizarro responded well to Spencer’s patient riding style, making headway from the rear of the field to lead inside the final furlong. However, he immediately hung sharply right inside the final furlong and was ultimately all out to hold the favourite, Rhinestone Cowboy, by a neck. Pizarro made three further appearances at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing promoted second in the Royal & Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle in 2003, being brought down in the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase in 2004 and falling in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2005.