Charlie Swan, who retired from the saddle in 2003, was Irish National Hunt Champion Jockey nine successive times but, as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, will always be remembered for his association with Istabraq. An Irish sporting institution in his time, Istabraq was ridden by Swan on all 29 starts over hurdles and won 23 of them, including four at the Cheltenham Festival. In 1997, as a 5-year-old, he won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle, but returned to Prestbury Park to win the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Swan actually rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Trapper John, in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1990. In 1993, he rode four winners – Montelado in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Shawiya in the Triumph Hurdle, Fissure Seal in the Pertemps Network Final and Shuil Ar Aghaidh in the Stayers’ Hurdle – to become leading jockey at the meeting for the first time. When Peter Scudamore retired in April that year, Swan was approached by legendary trainer Martin Pipe about the vacant position as first jockey at Pond House Stables, but opted to stay in Ireland.
At the 1994 Cheltenham Festival, he won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle on Danoli, the Champion Bumper on Mucklemeg and the Coral Cup on Time For A Run to become leading jockey for the second year running. The following year, he also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Viking Flagship, trained by David Nicholson, who would have the distinction of being his only winner over fences at the Cheltenham Festival. Swan won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle again on Urbande in 1996 and, following his fruitful partnership with Istabraq, rode his final winners – Like A Butterfly in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Scolardy in the Triumph Hurdle – in 2002.