Runners at Wincanton

13th February 2014

Preview: Why the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle is special

If Zarkandar wins the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle he will become one of a select group of horses to win back to back runnings of Wincanton’s most high profile race. The feat hasn’t been achieved since Valifinet scored in 1993 and 1994 for Martin Pipe.

It is extraordinary how many top quality horses have won this Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial over the years. The likes of Hors La Loi III, Katchit, Binocular, Alderbrook and Kribensis have all been successful in Cheltenham’s hurdling showpiece. But it’s equally interesting to note that this race has been the stepping stone for a variety of versatile horses over a number of distances.

Take Inglis Drever for example. In 2005, Champion Jockey AP McCoy rode him to victory in the Kingwell Hurdle over the shortest distance of 2 miles. Yet as time passed, this Howard Johnson-trained gelding would become one of the greatest staying hurdlers in recent memory with three subsequent wins in Cheltenham’s Long Distance Hurdle.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the young grey horse who won the Kingwell Hurdle in 1984 for trainer David Elsworth and jockey Colin Brown. His name was Desert Orchid and he is arguably the most popular racehorse of all time.

Again, Desert Orchid’s win at Wincanton over the short distance might not seem like the perfect preparation for a horse who would win a Cheltenham Gold Cup over three and a quarter miles and an Irish Grand National over even further. But then again, few horses ever have been as versatile and resilient as this most famous of greys.

It must have been a fitting spectacle, therefore, when Desert Orchid and legendary flat jockey Lester Piggott teamed up to parade together in front of the packed stands at Wincanton a decade or so later. One witness, who is still a major part of the Wincanton office team today, maintains that the old grey’s exuberance was enough to cart his experienced rider for a good few furlongs down the Somerset track.

It has been a privilege to be part of the Wincanton team in the run up to this prestigious race and I have no doubt that the winner of this year’s renewal can go on to emulate some of his venerated predecessors.

If Zarkandar wins on Saturday it might be the spring board to success in any number of important races. Can you see him winning the Gold Cup in, say, 2016?

In a smaller way, if Zarkandar wins the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle it might also cement his role as “the face of Wincanton” on posters and flyers for another year.