The Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup represent the pinnacle of achievement in their respective divisions of National Hunt racing so, unsurprisingly, jockeys who have managed to win both races in the same season are few and far between. Norman Williamson did so in 1995, courtesy of Alderbrook and Master Oats, respectively, both trained by Kim Bailey.
However, the last jockey to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double was Sir Anthony McCoy, popularly known as A.P. McCoy or Tony McCoy. On March 11, 1997, McCoy rode the six-year-old Make A Stand, trained by Martin Pipe, to a five-length victory in the Champion Hurdle at odds of 7/1. Two days later, he also rode the nine-year-old Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance, to a nine-length victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 20/1. All told, McCoy rode three winners at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival – the other being Or Royal, also trained by Martin Pipe, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy – which were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the first time.
The simple answer is no, Aidan O’Brien is not related to the late Michael Vincent O’Brien, but the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has much in common with his predecessor. Indeed, it was Vincent O’Brien who bought Ballydoyle House, in Co. Tipperary in 1951 and, later, along with his son-in-law, John Magnier, and the late Robert Sangster, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, for whom Aidan O’Brien has been private trainer since 1996.
Both Aidan and Vincent O’Brien began their training careers in National Hunt racing; both have the distinction of having won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running, Aidan with Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Vincent with Hatton’s Grace in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Similarly, both men subsequently rose to become the dominant force in Flat racing, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of Europe and both became Champion Trainer in Britain, despite training on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Charles, Prince of Wales, made his debut as an amateur jockey, at the age of 31, in a charity race at Plumpton on March 4, 1980. He finished second aboard favourite Long Wharf and, just four days later, finished fourth aboard Sea Swell in his first steeplechase at Sandown. Later the same year, on October 24 – on the first occasion he and Lady Diana Spencer had been seen together in public – Charles rode his own horse, Allibar, into a highly creditable second place in an amateur riders’ handicap chase at Ludlow. After a promising start, it would be fair to say that the remainder of Charles’ brief riding career was not altogether happy.
In early 1981, Allibar collapsed and died while being ridden out one morning and Charles was subsequently unseated twice, in the space of five days, from his own horse, Good Prospect, including famously in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. He rode his sixth, and final, race at Newton Abbott on May 21, 1981, finishing ninth on Upton Grey, owned by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; his career form figures read ‘242UU0’ so, while he came close once or twice, Prince Charles never did ride a winner as a jockey.
Lester Piggott is arguably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. Between 1948 and 1995, he rode 4,493 winners on the Flat, including 30 British Classic winners, and became Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott never rode over fences, so he could never have won the Grand National but, early in his career, he did ride successfully over hurdles.
In fact, Piggott rode his first winner over obstacles, Eldoret, at Wincanton on Boxing Day, 1953. The following spring – still three months before his first Derby winner, Never Say Die – he won the Birdlip Hurdle, the opening race at what became the Cheltenham Festival, on Mull Sack and the Triumph Hurdle, in those days run at the now-defunct Hurst Park, on Prince Charlemagne, within the space of a few days. All in all, between 1953 and 1959, Lester Piggott rode 20 winners over hurdles, mainly for his father, Keith.
Lester Piggott may never have won the Grand National, but his grandfather, Ernie, rode three Grand National winners – Jerry M in 1912 and Poethlyn in 1918 and 1919 – and his father saddled the 1963 Grand National winner, Ayala; perhaps the headline question is not quite so absurd, after all?