Today marks the anniversary of the death of revered racehorse Desert Orchid. During his eight year career that began and ended in 1983 and 1991 respectively, Desert Orchid, affectionally known as ‘Dessie’, was a firm racing fan’s favourite.
The ‘grey’ horse, who was almost white in colour, wasn’t a household name for those outside of racing like Red Rum was before him, but he was wildly popular amongst racing circles, in part due to the tremendous amount of heart he showed in every race.
His victory in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup was perhaps the best race of his career that exemplified this, where he beat Yahoo against all the odds at the last. With that in mind, we’re looking into the top five best races to grace the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In no particular order…
5. L’Escargot’s 1970 Gold Cup Win
L’Escargot is and remains the only horse to ever win both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National, albeit in different years. L’Escargot won both the 1970 and the 1971 Gold Cup, but it was his first that was most memorable.
A 33/1 outside bet, L’Escargot (French for ‘the Snail’) ran well, but looked to lose out to French Tan going into the second last, who was marginally better over the fences. However, L’Escargot put in a strong final run-in to take it by 1½ lengths.
4. Best Mate’s 2004 Gold Cup Win
In 2004, Best Mate became the first racehorse since Arkle to win three consecutive Gold Cup’s, only the fourth horse to ever do so. In a time where the impressive feat was considered impossible, Best Mate was considered one of the most loved horses in horse-racing history, and is celebrated in Cheltenham through a stand named after him and a statue of him at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Of his three victories, 2004 was not only his crowning moment, but also his most exciting race. Best Mate jumped exceptionally throughout, and ran well for the duration of the race. However he faced fierce competition in the final stretches. Harbour Pilot boxed him into the rail as they approached the second last, and even after Best Mate had jumped half a length clear over the penultimate fence, Sir Rembrandt made a late charge on the outside. With the deafening roar from the crowd, Best Mate showed courage and true grit to make it over the line as a third-time champion.
3. Kauto Star’s 2009 Gold Cup Win
Two-time Gold Cup winner Kauto Star blew people away with his second win in 2009. Regarded as the greatest racehorse since Arkle by many racing fans, his 2009 display oozed with class. A faultless jumping display, Kauto Star won comfortably, 13 lengths ahead of his great rival Denman. The performance was described by Timeform as: “Arguably the best performance in the race since Arkle” and deservedly so. If his runs in previous Gold Cups had been all about heart – this was sheer class.
2. Arkle’s 1966 Gold Cup Win
Arkle is officially the greatest steeplechase racehorse of all time with a Timeform rating of 212. Without that rating though, Arkle’s legacy is carried high by reputation alone. 1966 marked Arkle’s third successive Gold Cup win, the first horse to do so since Cottage Lake between 1948 and 1950. A 1/10 favourite, Arkle gave punters and fans a fright by ploughing through a fence, but regardless he went on to win at a canter by 30 lengths, a truly emphatic victory.
1. Desert Orchid’s 1989 Gold Cup Win
Desert Orchid never looked likely to win the Gold Cup. Having previously only been considered a 2-mile runner, Desert Orchid was stepped up to a 3 mile 2 furlong race at the Cheltenham Festival. Rain and Snow leading up to the Gold Cup race made the track heavy, something which heavily favoured Yahoo, not to mention Desert Orchid’s issue with left-handed tracks.
After the third last, Yahoo was gliding and looked all but certain to take the crown. However, Desert Orchid wasn’t done yet. A much improved run allowed him to gain on Yahoo going into the last, but Yahoo still appeared to have the victory in his grasp. The roar of the 58,000 strong crowd seemingly reignited Desert Orchid who made up ground, completing the impossible by crossing the line with a 1½ lengths lead.