Istabraq soaks up the attention at 30th birthday celebrations

Beloved hurdler Istabraq enjoyed his very own birthday party on reaching the ripe age of 30 on Monday.

The Sadler’s Wells gelding is an all-time great of the hurdling division, a 25-time winner whose three consecutive Champion Hurdles and four successive Irish Champion Hurdles are the stuff of folklore among sworn-in racing fans and casual onlookers alike.

Alongside that infallible run in Champion Hurdles both sides of the Irish Sea, the bay was triumphant in a host of other big races and amassed over £1million in prize money while jointly becoming the second-highest rated hurdler of all time in the eyes of Timeform.

After retirement in 2002 Istabraq left the yard of trainer Aidan O’Brien and settled into life away from the track at Martinstown, the Cork stud of owner JP McManus.

Twenty years later the horse remains happily pensioned in the care of his owner and is cared for daily by Lara Hegarty, who marked his 30th birthday by organising a party whose attendees included McManus and Sir Anthony McCoy.

“I’m mad about him so for the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting stuff online, I’ve got a banner and a cake and he’s got a new rug with ’30th birthday’ written on the side of it. He’s spoilt rotten, but he deserves every bit of it,” she said.

“I know he’s a massive profile and he’s won so much but it’s just nice to see the other side of him as well, he’s just his usual cheeky self.

“He’s retired now and he’s spoilt rotten in his retirement, he gets the best of everything and it’s nice to see that side of him as well as Istabraq the champion hurdler.

“He’s so well cared for and it’s so nice to see him enjoying it because he deserves it.”

Istabraq spends his days at pasture with former Grade One-winning chaser Gilgamboa and is more spritely than one might expect of a horse of advancing years.

“He gets the best of everything, if there’s anything he needs he will get it. He goes out in the field all day with Gilgamboa, they potter around in the field then he comes in and gets his groom and his carrot and goes into his bed for the night,” said Hegarty.

“People probably think because he’s 30 he just strolls about the place, but he’s so lively in himself.

“When he comes in he might decide he wants to head down for a carrot and he will take you the whole way down to the feed room and he will wait for his carrot. You can’t stop him!

“He’s very clever, when we get new horses in the barn he knows, and he’ll drag you over because he has to say hello. Then he goes on to the next horse and you could be there for 10 minutes while he goes and says hello to each horse and then he messes and starts pulling their headcollars off.”

Istabraq and Charlie Swan on their way to Irish Champion Hurdle glory
Istabraq and Charlie Swan on their way to Irish Champion Hurdle glory (Chris Bacon/PA)

Born on May 23 1992 and famously purchased by the late John Durkan after a brief Flat campaign in the hands of John Gosden, Istabraq is synonymous with McManus’ green and gold silks and it is no surprise that owner and horse have developed a strong a bond.

“JP always comes down to see him and he’s mad about him,” Hegarty said.

“Istabraq knows him as well, JP comes in and he neighs over the door when he sees him.”

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