It’s a golden year for Fontwell’s National Spirit Hurdle

National Spirit is paraded at Fontwell in 1965 - when the first National Spirit Hurdle was run
National Spirit is paraded at Fontwell in 1965 - when the first National Spirit Hurdle was run

FONTWELL’S top race of the season turns 50 this weekend – and the track is hoping it will be a real celebration of a contest steeped in great stories.

The National Spirit Hurdle, first run in 1965, will be run at the figure-of-eight track on Sunday week and, as ever, is likely to attract a top field of runners.

There’s every chance a number of trainers could use the race as a trial for horses being aimed at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The race – these days sponsored by Totepool and the track’s most valuable and prestigious race – is named after a dual winner of the Champion Hurdle who, aged 24, was paraded at the track on the day the first running of the National Spirit Hurdle was held.

A regular Fontwell runner in the 1940s, National Spirit was owned by Leonard Abelson and trained by Vic Smyth.

The National Spirit Hurdle carries a total of £50,000 in prize money in a two-and-a-half-mile event that attracts some of the top hurdlers.

Since Salmon Spray won in 1965, the National Spirit has had some notable winners, from the early days with Comedy of Errors to more recently with Baracouda, My Way de Solzen and Lough Derg.

The day’s racing also features the Totepool Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Chase and the Hunter Chase Foxhunters Trial, providing an excellent supporting card to the feature race.

Gates open at midday on Feburary 22 with the first of seven races off at 2.10pm.

Tickets are available on the gate from just £15 (Paddock) and £20 (Premier) and kids under 18 go free.

The course lost its two January meetings to a waterlogged track but the drier weather has left the surface in reasonable nick and their 2015 programme got belatedly under way last Thursday with a six-race card.

Visit www.fontwellpark.co.uk or call 01243 543335 with inquiries for Sunday’s action.

STEVE BONE

National Spirit Hurdle factfile

* The inaugural running of the National Spirit Hurdle in 1965 was won by Salmon Spray

* Comedy of Errors is another notable winner of the contest

* Salmon Spray and Comedy of Errors both went on to succeed at the highest levels after the Spirit Hurdle

* The Spirit Hurdle is widely regarded as a trial for the world hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival

* In 2001, Baracouda won the National Spirit Hurdle before going on to win two World Hurdle crowns for trainer Francois Doumen.

* In 2006, Alan King’s My Way De Solzen stormed success in the National Spirit before lifting the World Hurdle crown the following month.

* Lough Derg won back-to-back renewals of the National Spirit Hurdle for David Pipe in 2008 and 2009

* The National Spirit Hurdle is regarded as one of the leading hurdle contests of the entire national hunt season

* Paul Nicholls has won two of the past four renewals of this prestigious race – with Celestial Halo in 2011 and Prospect Wells 2013

* Vagador won the National Spirit Hurdle twice – in 1988 and then in 1990.