2005 Champion Hurdle: Hardy Eustace beats Harchibald and Brave Inca
PICTURE: Edward Whitakre
By Stuart Riley 11:10AM 10 AUG 2016
Following Paul Carberry’s forced retirement, we look back on one of the most famous races he was involved in. First published February 10, 2013
THE 2005 Champion Hurdle was one of the all-time classics. As a race it had everything. A game defending champion in Hardy Eustace, the talented rogue that was Harchibald and the young pretender in Brave Inca all delivered in a race full of drama which tested the emotions and climaxed with one of the sport’s greatest finishes.
BEFORE THE RACE
An hour and 20 minutes before Hardy Eustace won his first Champion Hurdle, Brave Inca was kicking off the 2004 Cheltenham Festival with victory over War Of Attrition in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Both followed up at Punchestown but experienced a barren spell in the first half 2004-05 season, the pair racing seven times between them without victory until Hardy Eustace finally won on his final start before the festival.
Dessie Hughes, trainer of Hardy Eustace: He’d beaten Rooster Booster in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals [in the 2003-04 season] and I was happy enough with the way his season had gone on really testing ground.
Colm Murphy, trainer of Brave Inca: It was his first season out of novice company and it was a little frustrating. We kept finding one too good everywhere we went.
Hughes Going to Cheltenham we knew he loved the track, we knew the proper way to ride him and I was very confident. He was the defending champion in great form.
Murphy We hoped he could win. We knew he was good enough and that year it was probably a case of needing everything to go right for him.
Barry Cash, rider of Brave Inca: His work was improving all year and going into the race I expected him to be thereabouts. The way his season had gone I wasn’t expecting him to win, but if everything went right I knew he could.
Harchibald, on the other hand, had racked up three Graded victories, in the Morgiana, Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle, beating 2003 Champion Hurdle winner Rooster Booster in the last-named race.
Noel Meade, trainer of Harchibald: We took him to Navan just before the festival and worked him. It was heavy ground and he was diabolical. It was so bad and a real jolt. It knocked our confidence in him slightly and we didn’t go there as confident as we could have been.
The stage was set for a titanic battle. O’Dwyer tried to make all on Hardy Eustace, Cash sat close to the pace on Brave Inca while Paul Carberry got plenty of cover for Harchibald.
Hughes I always thought Harchibald was the biggest threat, he had so much pace, more than Hardy Eustace did, and a real good turn of foot, so we knew we needed to try to run it out of him and Conor made all that day.
Paul Carberry, rider of Harchibald: Conor went off in front but then once he got there he slowed it down a little. We didn’t go a mad pace and I was fairly happy with where I was through the early part of the race. As always things quickened up coming down the hill and I just eased him through the field. He was always going easy and I just wanted to bury him behind runners. Half the problem was his jumping, he really was like an aeroplane over his hurdles and he’d make up so much ground, so keeping him covered up wasn’t that easy.
Hughes Everything went according to plan and I was pretty happy as they were coming down the hill. I knew he was going to be hard to pass but I couldn’t stop looking at Harchibald and how well he was travelling.
Carberry He absolutely winged the third-last and that put him up on the heels of them and I had to take a bit of a pull. Coming down the hill I knew I was going well enough and looking at the others I was confident I was going the best. I thought I was going to win at that point.
Cash I had no trouble at all, he got plenty of daylight and he did everything right. He travelled into the race so strongly and coming down the hill I was probably going too well. He’s such a strong stayer so I should have set sail then and laid it down to Hardy Eustace a lot earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and that’s not taking account of Harchibald. At the time I was exactly where I wanted to be because I wanted to have him covered as well and not set it up for him.
Carberry I wanted to get into the bottom of two out a little, just to keep him off them as I wanted them in front of me and something to aim at, but over two out and round the bend it didn’t quite work out like that and I came into the straight right behind Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace.
Approaching the last it became obvious Hardy Eustace, Harchibald and Brave Inca would fight out the finish. With Hardy Eustace on the rail and Brave Inca drifting towards the middle of the track, both hard at work, it looked only a matter of time before the motionless Carberry, between the two, eased away on Harchibald.
Carberry Coming off the bend Brave Inca drifted away from me. That’s the key part of the race for me. If he’d stayed over and battled with Hardy Eustace I think I would have won, but it didn’t work like that and my hand was forced, I had to go.
Hughes He jumped so well that day, he never missed a beat, but coming off the home bend I was convinced he was beat. I thought both Harchibald and Brave Inca would go past him, but Conor judged it to perfection and got another good jump at the last.
Cash For half a stride going to the last I thought we were going to win, but it wasn’t to be for him that year.
Carberry That gap was not what I wanted as it meant I jumped the last next to Hardy Eustace rather than behind him. I knew Brave Inca was beat and the whole way up the run-in I thought I was going to win, but inside the last furlong he just began to empty on me and he ran out of petrol. I was gutted.
Hughes He did everything perfectly. The hill is there and the way we made it a good gallop meant it took every bit of getting that year. He made sure you had to stay and he just ran the finish out of Harchibald.
Meade I watched the race with Dessie and coming to the last it was just a feeling of total elation – as soon as he cleared it I knew we were going to win the Champion Hurdle and Dessie almost gave me a pat on the back. I was so thrilled and then it all got pulled out from under me.
Murphy Coming down the hill I certainly thought he had a chance but in the end he was up against two very good horses who were more experienced and that probably told. He ran a blinder and probably just lacked that little bit of experience.
Carberry Harchibald was a fantastic horse and one of the things people didn’t realise with him is he would give you his all without having to ask him. He was going flat out without me having to do too much and the quickest way to get him beat was to get after him.
Meade I felt afterwards that if Paul got to ride him again he’d have done it differently, but whenever we’ve talked he’s always said the only thing he’d have changed is he’d have sat off them a bit further and come with a run and with momentum.
Hughes It was fantastic. To be convinced you’re beat and then actually win was a real thrill, especially as he was the defending champion. He beat some serious horses – all three years he ran in the Champion Hurdle were proper races. The horses he was beating were also champions.
Conor O’Dwyer is congratulated after Hardy Eustace’s win
PICTURE: RP GRAPHICS
Hardy Eustace, Harchibald and Brave Inca went on to win another 16 races over hurdles, including 11 at Grade 1 level. The most notable victory was Brave Inca’s Champion Hurdle the following year, in which Hardy Eustace was third as he attempted to join an elite club and win the race for a third time.
Hughes That race was probably the highlight of his career. He went back to Punchestown and won there again and he won loads of good races, but that race, on that day, the way it all happened – that was the best for me.
Murphy The only difference with that year and the next one was he was winning them all. I always felt we were one race behind where we wanted him that season but the following year we got it right.
Hughes We were very blessed to have him, he was a wonderful horse to have and he stayed very sound the whole way through his career.