Who was Flyingbolt?

Trained by the late Thomas William ‘Tom’ Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan, County Dublin, Flyingbolt was a contemporary and stable companion of Arkle and, according to Timeform, had the distinction of being the second-highest rated steeplechaser since the mid-Sixties. Indeed, Arkle and Flyingbolt, with Timeform Annual Ratings of 212 and 210, respectively, stand head and shoulders above any other steeplechaser in the past five decades or so; Sprinter Sacre, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 2013 and 2016, comes in a remote third in the all-time list, with a rating of 192p.

Speaking of the Cheltenham Festival, Flyingbolt was successful at the March showpiece three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy and Queen Mother Champion Chase, respectively. According to racing historian John Randall, in the latter race, Flyingbolt ‘triumphed with breathtaking ease by 15 lengths’. Such ease, in fact, that 24 hours later he reappeared in the Champion Hurdle, finishing a close, and arguably unlucky, third behind Salmon Spray.

Less than a month later, in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, Flyingbolt put up arguably his best performance ever. Shouldering the welter burden of 12st 7lb, he beat the useful mare Height O’Fashion, who was receiving 2st 12lb, by two lengths, with the reigning champion Splash, who was receiving 3st 0lb, further behind in third place. Reflecting on that stage of his career, jockey Pat Taaffe said of Flyingbolt, ‘It seemed only a matter a time until he took over from Arkle.’ Sadly, he never did; shortly afterwards he contracted a recurring disease, known as equine brucellosis, and never showed the same level of form again.

Who is Nicky Henderson?

Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Henderson is the son of the late Major John ‘Johnny’ Henderson, a founder of the Racecourse Holdings Trust and, as such, credited with helping safeguard the future of Cheltenham Racecourse in the Sixties. The name of Nicky Henderson, too, is synonymous with Cheltenham, predominantly the Cheltenham Festival, where he has saddled 68 winners, making him the second most successful trainer in history, behind only perennial Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins.

Indeed, Henderson is the leading trainer in the history of both the Champion Hurdle, which he has won eight times and, jointly, alongside Tom Dreaper and Paul Nicholls, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he has won six times. He has also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice apiece.

Henderson has also won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship six times including, most recently, in 2019/20. The National Hunt season was brought to a premature end on March 25, as the result of the coronavirus pandemic but, at its close, Henderson had saddled 118 winners, including 15 at Graded level and, more importantly, amassed £2.53 million in total prize money; his seasonal total was £192,550 higher than his nearest rival, reigning Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls.

Henderson, who turns 70 in December, 2020, began his training career as assistant to eight-time Champion Trainer Fred Winter in 1974, before taking out a training licence in his own right four years later. He is currently based at Seven Barrows in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire, the yard to which he moved in 1992.

How many winners did Steve Smith-Eccles ride at the Cheltenham Festival?

Former National Hunt jockey Steve Smith-Eccles retired from race riding in 1994 and is best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running on See You Then, trained by Nicky Henderson, in 1985, 1986 and 1987. However, seven years prior to winning the two-mile championship for the first time, Smith-Eccles had already recorded his first victory at the Cheltenham Festival, when landing the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase aboard Sweet Joe, trained by Harry Thomson ‘Tom’ Jones, in 1978.

Sweet Joe suffered a career-ending injury early in the 1978/79 season, but aside from a notable hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle, Smith-Eccles also won the Triumph Hurdle twice, in 1985 and 1987, the Grand Annual Chase in 1985 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1986, for a career total of eight winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Six of those eight winners – First Bout (1985), See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987) River Ceiriog (1986) and Alone Success (1987) – were trained by Nicky Henderson, at whom Smith-Eccles once threw a punch during an argument, while Alan Jarvis rowed in with Kathies Lad (1985). Indeed, the three winners Smith-Eccles rode at the 1985 Cheltenham Festival were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the one and only time.

Which horse is, or was, the highest-rated Champion Hurdler of the Timeform era?

As far as the ‘Timeform era’ is concerned, it is important to note that Timeform ratings – which express, in Imperial pounds, the calibre, or merit, of each horse – were not published for National Hunt racing until the early Sixties. Consequently, the Timeform era does not include luminaries of the post-war years, such as National Spirit, Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken, who collectively won the Champion Hurdle eight times between 1947 and 1954.

However, as Japanese writer Haruki Marukmai once said, ‘Everybody has to start somewhere’ and, as it stands, Night Nurse, who recorded back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle in 1976 and 1977, is the highest-rated hurdler of the Timeform era, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 182. Indeed, the 1977 renewal of the Champion Hurdle is often acclaimed as the best ever run and Monksfield, who finished second on that occasion before winning in 1978 and 1979, is the joint-second highest-rated hurdler of the Timeform era. His Timeform Annual Rating, of 180, places him alongside Istabraq, who won the Champion Hurdle three years running, in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

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