Istabraq is set to be retired after his bid for a record fourth Smurfit Champion Hurdle victory ended in anti-climax today.
He was sent off 2-1 favourite for the Cheltenham showpiece, in which his previous wins in 1998, 1999 and 2000 had proved him undoubtedly the top hurdler of the past decade.
But the 10-year-old was pulled up by Charlie Swan as the field passed the stands for the first time in the two-mile event, having jumped just two flights.
As it became clear that the gelding - who was denied the chance for a fourth win last year by the meeting’s abandonment - was out of the race the crowd burst into a spontaneous round of applause for the deposed champion.
Explaining what had happened, the star’s trainer Aidan O’Brien said: ‘‘Charlie said he landed on his back jumping the first hurdle.
‘‘He felt him go very stiff and he didn’t want to take a chance with him so he pulled him up. He did the right thing.
‘‘He had obviously tied up behind. He has been very stiff this year and his skeleton and muscles and body are showing signs of age.
‘‘I have got to speak to his owner JP McManus but I would imagine he will be retired.’’
Asked if it was a disappointment, O’Brien said: ‘‘It isn’t a sad day as no lives were lost and we are all healthy. Istabraq felt no pain today as Charlie pulled him up very quick.
‘‘It was a difficult decision to run today but we decided to let him run as there was no risk he would suffer any pain.
‘‘If he had been injured I would feel bad but I am happy that he is healthy.’’
Paying tribute to Istabraq, who also won the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1997 and earned over €1.6m in career prize-money, O’Brien said: ‘‘Obviously I will never have another National Hunt horse like him.
‘‘I don’t think we’ll see another hurdler like him, with his natural ability and the way he used to jump and his enthusiasm.
‘‘It was a privilege for all at Ballydoyle to have a horse like him.’’
Born: May 23, 1992.
Breeding: By Sadler’s Wells out of Betty Brother to fair middle-distance performer Mutamanni and half-brother to several winners, notably 1984 Derby winner Secreto. Dam half-sister to French Derby winner Caracolero.
Breeder: Shadwell Estate Company Limited.
Owner: J P McManus.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien.
Record over hurdles:
Nov 16 1996: Second, beaten a head by Noble Thyne at Punchestown.
Dec 1 1996: Won at Fairyhouse.
Dec 27 1996: Won at Leopardstown.
Feb 2 1997: Won at Leopardstown.
Mar 12 1997: Won Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Apr 23 1997: Won at Punchestown.
Oct 16 1997: Won at Tipperary.
Nov 30 1997: Won at Fairyhouse.
Dec 29 1997: Won at Leopardstown.
Jan 25 1998: Won AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Mar 17 1998: Won Smurfit Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Apr 4 1998: Second, beaten a head by Pridwell in the Martell Aintree Hurdle.
Nov 3 1998: Won at Cork.
Nov 29 1998: Won at Fairyhouse.
Dec 29 1998: Won at Leopardstown.
Jan 24 1999: Won AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Mar 16 1999: Won Smurfit Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Apr 10 1999: Won Martell Aintree Hurdle.
Apr 30 1999: Won Shell Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Oct 23 1999: Won at Tipperary.
Nov 28 1999: Second, beaten five and a half lengths by Limestone Lad.
Dec 29 1999: Won at Leopardstown.
Jan 23 2000: Won AIG Europe Champion Hurdle.
Mar 14 2000: Won Smurfit Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Dec 31 2000: Fell at final flight in race won by Moscow Express at Leopardstown.
Jan 21 2001: Won AIG Europe Champion Hurdle.
Apr 27 2001: Fell at final flight in Shell Champion Hurdle won by Moscow Express at Leopardstown.
Dec 29 2001: Won at Leopardstown.
Mar 12 2002: Pulled up before third flight in Smurfit Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Raced 29 times for 23 victories and £1,035,440 in win and place money. The leading money earner over jumps in Ireland and Britain. Also won twice on the Flat at Salisbury and Ayr for John Gosden.
Ridden in all his races over hurdles by Charlie Swan.
Only the third horse to win at four Cheltenham Festivals in row along with Arkle and Golden Miller.