By established standards, the roar that greeted Istabraq as he surged up the Cheltenham hill to an amazing 12-length win in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle was ear-splitting. But what better way for the travelling Irish thousands at the National Hunt festival to celebrate St Patrick's Day than with a winner destined to go into the annals of the sport as one of its true heroes. The ease of Tuesday's win, the first Irish success in the Champion Hurdle since the mighty Dawn Run in 1984, should not be taken as evidence of an inferior field in the 1998 renewal. Rather, it was the simple fact that Istabraq is an exceptional hurdler and he is already 11-4 and 3-1 favourite for next year's contest with the Tote and Ladbrokes respectively. Only four horses have ever won the Champion Hurdle three times in succession, the last of them being See You Then in the mid-1980s. Istabraq, trained by Ballydoyle-based Aidan O'Brien, should logically add his name to the formidable list. Owned by the legendary Limerick-born punter and businessman, J. P. McManus, Istabraq was set for this one race. Despite the enormous attention paid to him and the fact that leading bookmakers were holding liabilities running into millions, Istabraq actually eased on the course and was sent off at 3-1. He gave nothing a chance and Irish champion jockey, Charlie Swan, said: 'Four days ago Aidan told me that Istabraq would destroy this field. I thought at the time that he might be putting more pressure on me but he was simply telling the truth.' Istabraq was a staggering 12 lengths clear of Theatreworld, also runner-up last year, and the hats and shamrocks were flying into the air long before Swan reached the line. The two leading bookmaking firms, Ladbrokes and William Hill, lost at least $26 million. But no tears were flowing for the layers. After this result, all that flowed at Cheltenham was Guiness. Tote Bookmakers spokesman Rob Harknett said: 'It was the worst possible result for us but the book isn't everything. Sometimes the race is more important.'