Dawn Run

Dawn Run

Dawn Run remains the most successful mare in the history of National Hunt Racing. She is the only horse to have landed the Champion Hurdle / Cheltenham Gold Cup double and, amazingly, the only one to have completed the English, Irish and French Champion Hurdle treble.

Dawn Run’s first season over hurdles in 1982/3 proved a remarkable success, as she ended her campaign as Champion Novice. The following year, she won eight of her nine races, including when completing that unique English, Irish and French treble.

Jonjo oneill riding dawn run
Victorious Jonjo on Dawn run

Jonjo first rode Dawn Run at Ascot in November 1983 and recalls “she was very moody and not a very comfortable ride. I never felt that I really fitted into her neatly and tidily”. Nonetheless, they were successful and the following March landed the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, it was Dawn Run’s victory in the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup that really captured the racing public’s imagination. Her trainer, Paddy Mullins, was far from confident that she could win such a race, despite her exploits over hurdles. As Jonjo relates “the major threat to her chances were the fences – her jumping could be dreadful. She was a big, long-striding mare, who was fantastic at flying a hurdle and could be brilliant if she met a fence right. However, she hadn’t a clue how to adjust herself when she was wrong and just took a chance”.

Turning for home, towards the end of a dramatic race, Dawn Run was one of only four horses left in contention. After the second last fence she looked likely to finish no better than third, but under a power packed finish from Jonjo she stormed up the hill to catch Wayward Lad near the finish. As Jonjo remembers “It was an amazing feeling. The noise of the crowd was incredible – a fitting reception for the first horse to win the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup. It was bedlam, glorious chaos and a moment in time I’ll never forget – how could you!”

Jonjo retired at the end of that season, but Dawn Run’s connections extended her campaign in a bid to win a second French Champion Hurdle. Tragically, she fell in that, breaking her neck. Such was her popularity, her death was reported on the front page of the Irish Times. A bronze statue of her and Jonjo now overlooks the parade ring at Cheltenham.

Jonjo summed up her unique ability as follows “She gave me my greatest day ever as a jockey. She was a funny old thing, but it was a great honour to be associated with her”.

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