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Hurdling crown owes much to crowd-pleaser; National Spirit.

THE Champion Hurdle was first run in 1927 but did not become a championship race until after World War II.

National Spirit was the horse who did most to boost the status of not only that race but hurdle racing in general, and the versatile public favourite ran in the Cheltenham feature a record six times (1947-52) for form figures of 1144F0.

After National Spirit's trainer and part-owner Vic Smyth had failed to make a chaser of him, he arrived in the top flight of hurdlers with victory under 12st 5lb in a Doncaster handicap in December 1946.

In the 1947 Champion Hurdle (postponed until April) the favourite, Le Paillon, was taken wide all the way round by Alec Head, whereas National Spirit, ridden by Danny Morgan, went the shortest way and beat the French raider by a length. The belief that Le Paillon should have won was validated when he landed the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe later that year.

National Spirit needed no luck to win the Champion Hurdle in 1948 as, ridden by the trainer's nephew Ron Smyth, he led at the second-last and beat D.U.K.W. by two lengths, with Irish outsider Hatton's Grace fifth.

He was favourite for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick 12 months later but ran well below form to finish fourth behind Hatton's Grace, who had been transformed after being moved to Vincent O'Brien.

The year-older Hatton's Grace beat him in the next two Champion Hurdles as well, but on both occasions he made a gallant attempt to regain the title. In 1950, having been attacked by nobblers in his box two days before, he would have finished second had a blunder at the final flight not knocked him back to fourth place; and in 1951 he was still just in front but tiring when he fell at the last. In 1952 he finished unplaced behind Sir Ken.

This dual-purpose performer was a notable staying handicapper on the Flat, only 10lb below top class. The Grade 2 National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell keeps his memory alive. John Randall Twice a champion Owner-breeder Len Abelson Trainer Vic Smyth Jockeys Danny Morgan, Ron Smyth, Dennis Dillon Festival wins 1947 Champion Hurdle, 1948 Champion Hurdle Other big wins 1946 Princess Elizabeth Hurdle, 1947 King George VI Handicap, Cosmopolitan Cup, 1948 King George VI Handicap, 1949 Oteley Hurdle, Cheltenham Hurdle, Princess Elizabeth Hurdle, 1950 Oteley Hurdle Ran 44 races over jumps, won 19 What you didn't know His name was originally registered as Avago What they said about him "National Spirit has not a deal of pace. Rather is he a long-striding strong galloper, and for that reason he is probably more effective when the surface is easy" - Phil Bull (The Best Horses of 1947)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 3, 2012
Words:466
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