CENTRAL PARK completes the set in 2019 as it stages the RPGTV Champion Hurdle - adding to the Grand National and Springbok competitions. Three major hurdles events - all held here in Kent. Central Park is, quite simply, the home of hurdling.
“We’re proud to stage any hurdles competition, but to now stage the triple crown of hurdles events - the Springbok, Grand National and Champion Hurdle - gives us all here enormous pleasure and pride,” said Roger Cearns, Central Park’s promoter.
It was Cearns’s family who built Wimbledon Stadium on Plough Lane in south west London, former home of the Greyhound Derby but also where the Springbok, Grand National and Champion Hurdle were all once staged.
The Champion Hurdle is the youngest of the hurdling triple crown events, being first staged at Wimbledon in 1990. Traditionally run alongside the Greyhound Derby, the 2019 running is the first away from the Classic but retains its summer slot.
“It was staged at Towcester last year, but with that track closing and the Derby moving to Nottingham, the Champion Hurdle was without a home effectively,” added Cearns. “Nottingham don’t stage hurdles racing, so it could have been lost.
“We love good hurdles racing, racegoers love the variety and the excitement of it and, given we have the Springbok and Grand National, it seemed a good opportunity to take it on - but you always need a good sponsor. Step forward Racing Post Greyhound TV.
“We’re delighted they took it on,” Cearns continued. “We’re regulars on the channel - our Sunday night open-race cards go down well - and we are pleased to welcome their cameras - including a roving camera for interviews etc! - on the night.”
The Champion Hurdle roll of honour features some of the best exponents of hurdles racing - from several Grand National winners to prolific-scoring Platinumlancelot (2009) and Razldazl Raidio (2016) and even a Greyhound of the Year in Cornamaddy Jumbo, the 2014 hurdling triple crown winner.
In terms of trainers, Tommy Foster leads the way with five victories, although Seamus Cahill has a chance to match the former Wimbledon trainer’s feat in this year’s final given he is represented by Droopys Trawler, the Springbok runner-up, and Grand National hero Caislean Fifi.
Incidentally, Foster’s son Jason is himself twice a Champion Hurdle winner courtesy of Platinumlancelot (2009) and Men Of Hope (2010). Jason is a Central Park-based trainer, while another two-time winner is Steve Gammon, now assistant to Crayford trainer Katie O’Flaherty.
Gammon, then a Ramsgate trainer, actually won the first Champion Hurdle with Cloran Major (1990), before following up some 25 years later with Jetstream Reason (2015) when the Champion Hurdle was still being staged at Wimbledon.
David Mullins, another trainer with a finalist this year in Piemans Bullet, weighed in with Stradeen Ouzo (2006). He, too, comes from a training dynasty given his mother Linda struck with Unbelievable (1991).
Like Seamus Cahill, Ricky Holloway has a rich history with hurdlers with three Champion Hurdle successes and has swopped titles in recent years with the Hove handler, who last struck with Ballymac Manix at Towcester in 2017.
However, Holloway was back in the winner’s enclosure last year at Towcester with Lenson Wilson - and the same runner eyes history in this year’s final as he bids to become the first greyhound to successfully defend the Champion Hurdle title.
Owners: Piemans Racing Club
Trainer: David Mullins, Romford
The oldest runner in the race remains a potent force over hurdles and lines up in his second major jumps final of 2019 having made the Springbok decider over C&D in February. Behind Ricky Holloway’s Burgess Brandy then, he also finished behind runner-up Droopys Trawler - but now the traps are reversed for this Champion Hurdle clash and the rails could prove an advantage. A heavyweight performer - tipping the scales around 40 kilos - Piemans Bullet was a solid performer on the flat, competing in a Derby. Aims to land his trainer David Mullins a second Champion Hurdle after Stradeen Ouzo’s victory at Wimbledon 2006.
Owner: Tommy Smith
Trainer: Seamus Cahill, Hove
The first of two Seamus Cahill-trained finalists, Droopys Trawler aims to go one better than in the Springbok here earlier this year. Second in the novice hurdlers’ championship behind the Ricky Holloway-trained Burgess Brandy, the two handlers have swopped major jumps titles this year given Cahill’s Caislean Fifi won the Grand National - and both handlers have two finalists here. Winner of the Northern Puppy Derby on the flat, Droopys Trawler looks to land Hove trainer Cahill a fifth Champion Hurdle after successes for Top Jock (2002), Farloe Browny (2003), Druids Mickey Jo (2005) - all at Wimbledon - and Ballymac Manix (2017) at Towcester.
Owner: Mark Cottle
Trainer: Ricky Holloway, Central Park
The first of Ricky Holloway’s finalists, Turnhouse Jet is following up his appearance in the Grand National decider where he finished fourth to Seamus Cahill’s Caislean Fifi. Inexperienced then, he has improved since and helped his trainer to success in both semi-finals last week. Given the local handler again has two finalists this year, a fourth Champion Hurdle one-two is still a possibility after Soviet Military (2013) led home Westmead Meteor at Wimbledon, likewise Razldazl Raidio (2016) from Mos Bullet at Plough Lane, and Lenson Wilson from Razldazl Star last year at Towcester.
An ex-Newcastle runner on the flat, he once pushed Derby finalist Droopys Expert close.
Owners: Ricky Holloway & Roger Cearns
Trainer: Ricky Holloway
Last year’s Champion Hurdle winner is aiming to land unprecedented back-to-back wins in the famous event - not to mention a fourth win in the competition for trainer Ricky Holloway. Also the Springbok winner last year, Lenson Wilson is therefore the reigning GBGB Hurdler of the Year - and will be cheered on by Central Park promoter Roger Cearns who has a share in the most prolific winner in the line-up. He has won 25 races from 42 starts - and a 28.77sec (calc) pre-event trial was well inside the hurdles track record (28.97sec). Like kennelmate Turnhouse Jet, Lenson Wilson won his semi-final and the Holloway pair are both unbeaten heading into the final.
Owner: Reg Bird & Mark Charman
Trainer: Jason Heath, Hove
The least experienced hurdler in the Champion Hurdle final, Forest Capri has shown plenty of speed to reach the £8,000 decider, qualifying behind Droopys Trawler in the heats and then Turnhouse Jet in the semis. A winner on the flat in Ireland at Newbridge, Forest Capri made his debut for Hove trainer Jason Heath on the flat in March. Winner of an A2 in May, that victory is his solitary one in the UK - but he now lines up in a Champion Hurdle Final as a novice jumper, which is some achievement. Trainer Health enjoyed success over hurdles with Sporting Ranger winning the Kent National Hurdle at Crayford last July.
Owners: Joss Barnfather, Tony Camsell, John Hardman & Jimmy Wright
Trainer: Seamus Cahill, Hove
Lines up eyeing a notable Champion Hurdle and Grand National double. The second of Seamus Cahill’s finalists, Caislean Fifi is looking to land the Hove handler a fifth victory in the event and also add to his second in last year’s Irish Grand National at Cork. Renowned as a hugely consistent performer, Caislean Fifi won races on the flat at Galway and then for Newcastle’s Jimmy Wright, who still has a share in him, before being schooled over hurdles when sent down to Cahill’s Kent base. He is yet to finish out of the first three in his hurdles career and holds the sprint hurdles track record here at Central Park.
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