Cheltenham Festival Memories: Five great Gold Cup races
Here are five previous Cheltenham Gold Cup races from memory lane, which can evoke strong emotions and remind us of some superb Festival performances.
For the first time in 38 years, the Gold Cup was aiming to be won for the third time by a horse. Who? Best Mate.
Having promised so much earlier in his career, he confirmed himself as a top quality chaser in the 2002 Gold Cup when beating Commanche Court and 1999 winner See More Business for Henrietta Knight and Jim Culloty.
The following year he looked to have a major threat in Irish raider Beef Or Salmon, but his bid ended with a crunching fall at the third fence, which left Best Mate to win as he pleased. How he quickened off the bend with two to jump is something to behold.
Running in the 2004 renewal was his golden opportunity to emulate Arkle, and he travelled and jumped with his usual fluency until after three out where tactics came into play. Harbour Pilot’s rider Paul Carberry tried to pin Best Mate in behind the long time leader First Gold.
Culloty didn’t panic and sent his rival around them. At the second last, the trait of a true champion shone as he took two lengths out of his rivals at a critical moment and he kept on up the hill to send Cheltenham into raptures.
Sadly Best Mate never was able to go for a fourth win in the race, with a setback meaning he missed the 2005 Gold Cup before sadly losing his life at Exeter later that year due to a heart attack.
Over the last 10 years, the staying chase division was dominated by two equine superstars trained by the genius that is Paul Nicholls down at Ditcheat.
Two completely different types of horse in Kauto Star and Denman. In 2007, both horses won at the Festival. Denman won the novice equivalent of the Gold Cup in devastating fashion, and Kauto captured the Gold Cup.
At the following year’s Festival, both horses went head-to-head for the first time. Kauto Star had a slight doubt after returning lame from his prep win at Ascot a month earlier, whilst Denman was three from three which included lumping top weight in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
The 2008 Gold Cup was one of the most thrilling events in recent racing history. Denman, nicknamed ‘The Tank’, put his main rival to the sword a fair way out, and his precise jumping compared to the lacklustre Kauto Star was mind-blowing. T
He had Kauto Star in trouble going down the hill, and it was a spine-tingling moments. Richard Hoiles commentary is sheer perfection as well.
Now veterans, Kauto Star and Denman returned for their sixth Festival on the bounce against new kid on the block Long Run.
Since the 2008 encounter, Denman had suffered from heart problems, finished second two more times in Gold Cups, one of those to Kauto Star and won his second Hennessy Gold Cup with one of the great performances in steeplechasing history.
Kauto Star had continued to re-write the record books including the scintillating win in 2009, before his horrific fall at the top of the hill in 2010.
This Gold Cup looked a strong field, with 2010 victor Imperial Commander back to defend the crown with various other contenders. The race was led for the majority by Midnight Chase, but once he fell away, it was left to Kauto Star, Denman and Imperial Commander with Long Run seemingly struggling to keep tabs.
Imperial Commander cracked and, for a fleeting moment, it looked as though we were about to get the match racing fans had waited for since 2008 as Kauto Star and Denman went head-to-head.
However, the younger legs of Long Run came to join and they were to his advantage, as he powered away from Denman and Kauto Star, both running gallant races in defeat.
Desert Orchid was the housewives favourite. A record that was just tremendous but, before his Gold Cup, he had a shaky one around Cheltenham which included disappointing efforts in the Champion Chase.
The 1988/89 season had gone so well for Desert Orchid, but the heavy persistent rain which made the ground barely raceable was against him.
Facing 12 rivals, he hated every step of the way yet still jumped with the usual flashiness, and was still there coming down to the third last where Ten Plus, who was going strongly fell which left Dessie and Yahoo disputing the lead.
Going to the second last, he looked beaten. Going to the last, Desert Orchid fought back tenaciously and up the famous hill, he dug deep and repelled Yahoo to gain one of the most famous victories in the race with Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary etched in the mind.
Our last entry is possibly the greatest mare ever to race in National Hunt history. The only horse ever in history to win both a Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup, Dawn Run had everything.
Speed, stamina and plenty of guts to go with it. After winning all before her over hurdles, she went chasing where she wasn’t always successful, most famously in her Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham in January when unseating Tony Mullins at the final ditch.
Connections made the decision to jock Mullins off for Jonjo O’Neill, and the rest they say is history. She made a bad error at the ninth fence, but recovered swiftly to dispute the lead with Run And Skip.
Coming down the hill, it was between four which included the 1985 winner Forgive And Forget who travelled up strongly, but it was Wayward Lad who led them over the final fence and looked the winner, yet Dawn Run found extra to the delight of the packed stands at Cheltenham.
She was mobbed on her way back in, scenes that won’t ever be seen again in the Cheltenham winners enclosure.
There was a sad end to her career, however. She fell at Aintree on her next start at the first fence before winning a match race at Punchestown against 1986 Champion Chase winner Buck House.
Her final start of the campaign was in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in Paris, where sadly she fell and was killed instantly.