Past Cheltenham Heroes: Monksfield 1979 Champion Hurdle
The late 1970s and early 1980s were considered a golden era for two-mile hurdlers, with Sea Pigeon, Night Nurse and Monksfield all winning two Champion Hurdles each at the Cheltenham Festival.
The latter was a real Cheltenham specialist, and despite being pint-sized had the heart of a lion and will to win like no other.
Trained in Ireland by Des McDonagh, Monksfield’s form figures at the Festival ended up 2,2,1,1,2.
After finishing runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle, the gelding had his whole campaign geared around going one better in the 1977 running of the Champion Hurdle.
The race was considered to be one of the strongest ever renewals and Monksfield finished runner-up to defending champion Night Nurse and had the likes of Dramatist, Sea Pigeon and Birds Nest in behind.
Monksfield lost vital momentum with a last flight mistake in that contest, but went on to gain his revenge 12 months later when gamely beating off the challenge of Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse.
The rivaly between Monksfield and Sea Pigeon had now become one of the features of National Hunt racing, and their battle in the 1979 Champion Hurdle is widely regarded as one of the most exciting in the history of the 2m contest.
Monksfield was in front but under strong pressure from his rider Dessie Hughes between the final two flights and looked a sitting duck for the strong-travelling Sea Pigeon.
When Sea Pigeon cruised into the lead at the final flight it seemed a question of how far he would win by, but Monksfield had a desire to win like no other and under a power-packed ride from Dessie Hughes rallied tenaciously to get up an score by 3/4 of a length after a ding-dong battle up the famous Cheltenham Hill.
Monksfield failed in his attempt to land the race for a third consecutive year in 1980 when runner-up to Sea Pigeon, but his racing style and record at the Festival will ensure that he will be remembered as one of the greatest hurdlers of all time.