Trained by: Dessie Hughes
Owner: Laurence Byrne
Jockeys: Conor O'Dwyer, Paddy Flood
Dam: Sterna Star
Did you know: Hardy by name, hardy by nature. Hardy Eustace will be remembered as one of the gamest hurdlers of recent decades. One member of what was a vintage crop of Irish-trained hurdlers in the middle part of the "noughties" that included Brave Inca, Macs Joy and Harchibald, Hardy Eustace more than held his own and indeed he secured the most wins at the Cheltenham Festival of that entire group.
Hardy Eustace started his career by showing useful form in bumpers, winning the Land Rover Bumper at Fairyhouse in 2002 and finishing sixth in Grade 1 company three weeks later. He wasted no time in making his mark over obstacles the following season and proved to be one of the leading novice hurdlers of the season. He gained a memorable victory over the subsequent Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Back In Front in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse and while he had his colours lowered by Solerina at Leopardstown in February, he was still strongly fancied for the Cheltenham Festival. Contesting the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle, he showed the battling attitude that would serve him so well in the years ahead to grind out a length win under the sorely-missed Kieren Kelly.
Toughing It Out With The Big Boys
The 2003/4 campaign started well for Hardy Eustace, with him winning a Flat maiden at Navan on his seasonal reappearance, but four consecutive defeats followed back over hurdles. To the outsider, it looked as though Hardy Eustace may have been just another smart novice that got swallowed up when entering open company, but Dessie Hughes had other ideas. With first-time blinkers applied, Hardy Eustace was sent off at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Given an excellent front-running ride by Conor O'Dwyer, he gamely fought off the challenge of the strongly-fancied Rooster Booster to win by five lengths. Some doubted the form, but Hardy Eustace confirmed it by beating the same rival at the Punchestown Festival the following month.
Defending The Title
Again, the 2004/5 campaign started a bit slowly for Hardy Eustace, with three creditable runs in defeat being followed by an easy win in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park. The Champion Hurdle was the next stop and what transpired was one of the most exciting races of the decade at the Cheltenham Festival. Conor O'Dwyer set out to make the running once again, but Brave Inca and in particular the strong-travelling Harchibald mounted very serious challenges from the penultimate flight, but Hardy Eustace memorably found more in the dying strides to prevail by a neck, becoming the first Champion Hurdler since Istabraq to successfully defend his crown.
A Two-Time Champion
Unfortunately, Hardy Eustace had an interrupted campaign in 2005/6, making a winning seasonal reappearance in a conditions hurdle at Punchestown before running poorly in the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and returning a sick horse. He could not take in his planned prep-race before Cheltenham, but he still made a valiant bid to make it three Champion Hurdles in a row, finishing a close third to his old rivals Brave Inca and Macs Joy. He rounded off his season with two more solid placed efforts in defeat at the Aintree and Punchestown Festivals.
A Challenger Once Again
Hardy Eustace enjoyed a much clearer campaign in 2006/7 and that fact was reflected in his results. Following a pipe opener on the Flat, he produced a very impressive winning performance in the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle at Ascot. He proved no match for the up-and-coming Detroit City in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham in December, but it wouldn't take him long to regain the winning habit. Contesting the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown for the third time and at the age of 10, many ruled Hardy Eustace out in favour of his younger rivals, but under another sublime ride from Conor O'Dwyer, he beat off the challenge of Brave Inca by three lengths, much to the delight of the crowd. That set him up beautifully for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but he got no peace in front and could only finish an honourable fourth to Sublimity. He closed out the campaign with another creditable placed effort at the Punchestown Festival.
Stamina Comes To The Forte
At the beginning of the 2007/8 campaign, Dessie Hughes let it be known that he was keen to try Hardy Eustace over longer trips, as he perhaps no longer the speed to cope with his younger rivals over the minimum trip. Following a pipe opener on the Flat, he defended his title in the Ascot Hurdle at Ascot. Stepped up to 3m 1f for his next start in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, he beat everything bar Lough Derg. He was back on familiar territory for his next two starts, finishing a very game second to Al Eile in the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown and while he reversed that form with Al Eile in the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on his next start, both of them were well beaten by the impressive Sizing Europe. That comprehensive defeat encouraged Hughes to run his stable star in the World Hurdle rather than the Champion Hurdle, but he cut no ice behind Inglis Drever.
One Last Stand
Hardy Eustace began the 2008/9 campaign with plenty of questions to answer, with many questioning whether he could remain competitive at the highest level with his 12th birthday only around the corner. Indeed, his regular partner Conor O'Dwyer had retired from the saddle at the end of the previous campaign and it was left for Paddy Flood to take over the ride. However, the old boy had other ideas and on his seasonal reappearance in the Maplewood Developments Hurdle, he sensationally lowered the colours of Sizing Europe and Jered with a terrific display of front running. Unfortunately, that would prove to be his final win on the racecourse, as while he continued to race on enthusiastically for another year, he just didn't retain all of his old ability.
Retired in January 2010, Hardy Eustace will live long in the memories of Irish race goers and his three wins at the Cheltenham Festival will be particularly fondly remembered. He earned well over €1,200,000 in prize money and was undoubtedly one of the most loved hurdlers of the modern era.