The race lost some of it’s competitiveness early, with Large Action pulled up injured after the second, and Collier Bay only getting as far as the fourth, when another mistake there, having already hit the third hard, seen his jockey call it a day too.
Meanwhile the AP McCoy ridden Make A Stand was jumping with precision from hurdle to hurdle, and by half way he was around ten lengths clear. The pack had closed that advantage to three lengths jumping the third last, and he briefly looked in danger of being swallowed up, but like many Martin Pipe horses before him, he just kept finding. Another good jump sealed victory at the last, and he was going away again at the line for a five length win, with Theatreworld, as he would do for the next two years, staying on late to snatch second place.
Sadly Make A Stand never won again, he was a well beaten third in the Aintree Hurdle that season, and an injury sustained meant he wasn’t seen again until the 2000 Champion Hurdle, when he beat just one rival home.
1997 was the year that the great Istabraq was introduced to the Cheltenham crowd. Bought for just 38,000 GNS out of the John Gosden yard, having come second in a flat handicap off a mark of 83 on his last outing for him. JP McManus bought the horse on the recommendation of John Durkan, Gosdens assistant, who was going to train the horse himself, but Durkan was soon to be diagnosed with Leukaemia, and he suggested Aidan O’Brien should train the horse, while he fought the illness.
Istabraq was second on his hurdling debut at Punchestown in November 1996, but he won his next three starts, and with huge market confidence behind him, he went off just 6/5, in a field of seventeen for Royal Sunalliance Novices Hurdle, the opening race of Day Two.