Charlie Swan on Istabraq BSI

Charlie Swan: Constitution Hill Reminds Me Of Istabraq

We are now less than three weeks out to the beginning of the Cheltenham Festival and you can feel the excitement building up among horse racing fans.

Here at BoyleSports we were lucky enough to have the chance to catch up with legendary Irish jockey Charlie Swan.

We asked Swan all about his experiences at Cheltenham with legendary racehorse Istabraq, what it was like riding Istabraq up the hill at The Festival and we discussed a horse going into this year’s Champion Hurdle that reminds him of the three time winner of the race.

Istabraq’s Technique Top Class from day one

The first time I sat on him was the day Aidan [O’Brien, trainer] said that he had a horse that Jimmy Hide had bought which was meant to go to John Durkan – he was sick at the time so Aidan got him. That was Istabraq, who arrived just after Aidan had moved to Ballydoyle.

From day one, he was just a very natural jumper. He loved it, he didn’t run around at his hurdles and he just took them on. He had such a great technique to get away from the back of a hurdle and he’d land running the whole time.

John Gosden had trained him for Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum at Shadwell and he’d won for them on the Flat.  Aidan was obviously just starting out at the time and he’d been a jump jockey. The focus very much in those days was the jumps game.


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Istabraq’s Chances in 1998 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle

I thought he had a great chance. Aidan was more confident than we were. I remember the week before, I was down there riding him and Aidan just said to me: ‘He won’t just win, he will destroy them.’ That was a really strong statement to make.

Istabraq stayed so well in Champion Hurdle

I rode him handy. He always stayed so well and I was always out of trouble. I had a clear run. He jumped well and I always had it on my mind that if I was travelling well after the second last, I’d kick on around the last and let them catch me.

Over the second last, I just picked him up, sort of kicked him on and he just kept lengthening down to the last. He winged that hurdle and won very impressively by 12 lengths.

‘Constitution Hill reminds me of Istabraq’

He is an amazing, amazing horse. He seems to have everything – he has speed, he settles well, he jumps well and you can ride him anywhere. You know, he’d remind you of Istabraq. He does have an unbelievable amount of ability.

Istabraq was pretty similar as he’d jump double quick and that’s what you need to win Champion Hurdles.

I do like State Man, but I think Constitution Hill is going to be very, very hard to beat [in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham]. He looks unbeatable.

The way he won that Supreme last year, he took something like five seconds off the track record. He didn’t beat a bad horse in Jonbon, he’s a very good horse. And Epatante is a good mare yet Constitution Hill is making her look average.

You have to respect him. I think the only way he can get beat is if he’s not right on the day. Anything can happen and that’s why we always need to take each other on because horses are not robots – they can have off days.

He has got the potential though to be one of the greats. He is trained by a good man, owned by a good man, and he’s ridden by a good fella too. So, there’s no reason why he can’t. He has all the ability as long as he stays sound but that’s not easy.

Experience of Going Up Cheltenham Hill On Istabraq

It was amazing. Approaching the last, I said to myself that I hope I meet this on a good stride. He was a great horse and a very easy horse to ride.

In his younger days, he would get a little bit uptight. The first year he could sweat a bit but he was a very good ride – he didn’t pull and was very straightforward. His jumping was probably his best thing as he had an amazing ability to shorten, to stand out and to do everything you wanted.

He was very brave. He would stand off if given the opportunity but he was very good at shortening as well. He did fall twice with me but that was on very, very heavy ground.

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I knew, year after year, that we would be back winning at Cheltenham with Istabraq

Yeah, I did. I just knew with Aidan training and JP [McManus] owning – not that he would ever put Aidan under any pressure – I felt there was a great chance for us to come back year after year and he did.

It was just unfortunate about the foot and mouth outbreak which probably denied him a fourth win.

Istabraq was the best of my 17 Cheltenham Festival winners

Yes. To win three Champion Hurdles is the pinnacle. I rode some other good horses, like Viking Flagship to win the Queen Mother and then to win on Danoli was a great thrill because he was an Irish banker.

But any win at Cheltenham, you get a great kick out of. It was very exciting.

Everything is geared towards Cheltenham, every owner wants a Cheltenham winner and every jockey wants a Cheltenham winner, so does every trainer. It is so important.

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