As one of only three open Grade One contests for staying hurdlers in the British National Hunt calendar, the JLT Hurdle (registered as the Long Walk Hurdle) is a stable bastion of its division. Saturday will mark the 45th running of Ascot’s Christmas showpiece in its current format, having been first run as a conditions race in 1971.
Since its inception, the race has seen a host of champions take this on the way to further glory later in their careers. Yet in 1975, arguably the first marquee winner was seven-year-old Lanzarote, already a Champion Hurdler over a mile shorter in 1974. Later that decade, John Cherry became the first horse to win on more than one occasion, a feat that would become a trademark of the race in the last two decades.
The most prolific winner in the race’s history is French raider Baracouda who was sent over every year by Francois Doumen between 2000 and 2004, winning four times. Latterly, both the exceptional Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola triumphed on three occasions, duopolising Berkshire between 2009 and 2014.
Not to be forgotten are the likes of Derring Rose (1980), My Way De Solzen (2005) and Thistlecrack (2015) all of whom won this en route to Stayers’ Hurdle glory at Cheltenham the following March. The race even features a Grand National winner on its honours board, Royal Athlete taking the race in 1989.
This year’s field includes the two most recent winners in Sam Spinner, one of the fairy-tale horses of last season and Unowhatimeanharry representing the JP McManus juggernaut. Other significant players are young pretender Call Me Lord for Nicky Henderson, Agrapart, the mount of Lizzie Kelly, as well as other potential up-and-comers in Paisley Park and Soul Emotion.
The 11 declarations are made up by Garo De Juilley, The Mighty Don, Top Notch, West Approach and Younevercall. With no definite superstar but plenty of equine talent, the 2018 JLT Hurdle looks an encounter to savour.