For those of us who just love our National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Festival in mid-March each year is pretty much everything.
It’s the culmination of the whole season and the kind of “Championships” of National Hunt racing.
So here are out top ten moments from Cheltenham’s rich history:
1. Desert Orchid’s Cheltenham Gold Cup win
During the late 1980s, Desert Orchid was very much the UK’s favourite racehorse. He’d won the King George VI at Kempton on Boxing Day on no fewer than four separate occasions (1986, 1988, 1989, and 1990).
It was the way in which he won his races that endeared him so much – and though he wasn’t really a true Gold Cup horse (the race was a little too long for him) he won it anyway in 1989 – in fine style; not a dry eye in the house.
Diminutive Irish hurdler Monksfield was determined and dogged hurdler. He won two Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham in 1978 and again the year later. He’d been runner up to Night Nurse in the 1977 Champion Hurdle and was runner up again in 1980 – this time to Sea Pigeon who he’d beaten the year earlier. For the 1977 race in particular, Monksfield had been given little chance in the Cheltenham Festival odds, but came a close second – and rather like another Irish-trained dual Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly – he just didn’t seem to know when he was beaten.
3. Best Mate makes it three in a row
If you look at the Gold Cup record books of recent times – then Best Mate is the best horse. He won three in a row, the last coming in 2004. He was invincible on his day and became only the fourth horse ever to win three or more Gold Cups. He was the first three-time winner since the legendary Arkle did the same during the mid-1960s.
4. Kauto Star 2009 Gold Cup
When Kauto Star won the 2009 Gold Cup he did something that had never been done before – or since – in regaining the Cheltenham crown. Undoubtedly the best jumper in training of recent years, the only surprise and disappointment is that the great horse didn’t win one or two more Gold Cups – he was that good.
5. Arkle’s first Gold Cup
Mill House easily won the 1963 Gold Cup, and when he beat Arkle’s in winning the Hennessy Gold Cup in November 1963, it seemed a racing certainty he’ win a second Gold Cup. But Arkle proved to be the greatest post-war chaser and romped home ahead of Mill House in the 1964 Gold Cup.
6. Nicky Henderson, 2012
In this year, Nicky Henderson became officially the most successful trainer in all of Cheltenham Festival history when he reached an unbelievable 44 winners – four of whom came in the same day.
7. Norton’s Coin 1990
The 1990 Gold Cup witnessed one of the greatest shocks ever in National Hunt racing when Norton’s Coin won the Gold Cup at 100/1.
8. Michael Dickinson 1983
In the 1983 Gold Cup, Yorkshire based trainer Michael Dickinson trained the first five horses home in the Gold Cup – something can surely never be matched.
9. 2000 Istabraq
In the 2000 Champion Hurdle, J. P. McManus’s Istabraq made it three in a row. Only five horses have ever done this – and none since then.
10. The Cheltenham roar
Last and not least – there’s nothing quite like the Cheltenham roar – particularly when it’s a well backed Irish raider romping home! There’s nowhere quite like Cheltenham racecourse in the early spring for National Hunt fans from all around the world – it’s simply wonderful.