The Free Handicap Hurdle for four-year-olds dates back to 1969 and was sponsored by Timeform for many years.
Its most illustrious winner was Night Nurse in 1975, one of the all-time greats whose gameness made him one of the most popular horses in a Golden Age for jump racing. His 35 victories included two Champion Hurdles and numerous major steeplechases. He was second in a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Contrastingly, the 1977 Free Hurdle winner Levaramoss was a good prospect who later turned sour, frequently refusing to start and eventually being banned.
1983’s winner Ra Nova would go on to win Newbury’s Schweppes Gold Trophy (now the Betfair Hurdle), the richest handicap hurdle of the season, four months later.
The photogenic grey Silver Streak, from the Evan Williams stable, won in 2017. It was the Welsh yard’s second success in the race in three years. With hindsight the future Champion Hurdle third and Christmas Hurdle winner was a certainty here, carrying just ten stone four pounds.
Martin Pipe’s stable dominated the Free Hurdle in the 1990s but since then Paul Nicholls has been the man to follow with eight victories since 2002. The latest, in 2020, was Thyme White, owned by the late Andy Stewart, of Big Buck’s fame.
The race is now sponsored by Weatherbys who used it as vehicle to promote Paul Ferguson’s popular publication ‘Jumpers To Follow’.