Counting down the top 5 Cheltenham Festival moments of all time:
5. 2005 Champion Hurdle: Hardy Eustace vs Harchibald vs Brave Inca
“Personally I thought that this was one of my best rides, here or anywhere else.” Paul Carberry.
If any race encapsulated the Cheltenham Festival’s ability to thrill and frustrate in equal measures, it was the 2005 Champion Hurdle. Jumping the last flight of hurdles, three top-class Irish hurdlers took off together, but it was Harchibald in the middle of Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca who was travelling the best of the three. Paul Carberry on-board was completely motionless, seemingly with the race at his mercy, however, the enigmatic Harchibald had other ideas. When Carberry finally asked him to go and win the race halfway up the run in, the petrol tank was empty and the tough and wily Hardy Eustace was not for passing.
4. 1983 Gold Cup: Dickinson’s famous five
“I predicted we would have the first five in the Gold Cup 12 months before the race, but only in the privacy of my car to my wife Joan,” Michael Dickinson.
Many trainers dream of having a runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Other trainers dream of having a horse placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Some lucky trainers dream of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. No trainer ever in the right mind dreams of having the first 5 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. No trainer that is, except Michael Dickinson! Aged just 33, Dickinson achieved this remarkable feat in 1983 when Bregawn (Graham Bradley) beat home his four stable-mates: Captain John (David Goulding), Wayward Lad (Jonjo O’Neill), Silver Buck (Robert Earnshaw and Ashley House (Dermot Browne). Paul Nicholls has come closest to equalling this achievement when he sent out the 1-2-3 in 2008 (Denman, Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges).
3. 2008 Gold Cup: Denman Vs Kauto Star
“Denman, driven out, relentless, remorseless, has pounded Kauto Star into submission. The answer is Denman! Denman has won the Gold Cup.”
Commentator Richard Hoiles calling home Denman’s Gold Cup victory.
This was undoubtedly the most eagerly-anticipated race in the modern day Cheltenham Festival era. As soon as the curtain closed on the 2007 Festival, during which Denman swept aside the opposition in the RSA Chase and Kauto Star won his first Gold Cup, attention turned to the 2008 Gold Cup and the clash between the two. The build-up to the race was akin to a heavyweight boxing title fight with Denman’s colourful owner, the professional gambler Harry Findlay, declaring his horse would “crush Kauto”! While in the other corner, Clive Smith responded by saying that “Kauto will quell this Denman upstart”. The race itself was one-sided and if it was a boxing match, would not have gone the 12 rounds. The “Tank”Denman pulverised his opposition with a superb round of jumping in one of the all-time great Festival performances.
2. 1986 Gold Cup: Dawn Run’s date with destiny
“And the mare’s beginning to get up,” the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan delivered one of the most memorable pieces of horse racing commentary during the 1986 Gold Cup.
Dawn Run had already confirmed her place as the National Hunt darling after becoming the first horse to ever win the English, Irish and French Champion Hurdle treble in the same season in 1984 but remarkably, she broke even new ground in 1986. Very few horses ever try to win the Gold Cup after winning the Champion Hurdle but Dawn Run was an exception to the rule. Brave, tenacious and exceptionally talented, the brilliant mare jumped the last fence of the Gold Cup in 3rd place with Wayward Lad clear in front. Her jockey Jonjo O’Neill never gave up and the pair somehow managed to galvanise themselves to get up in shadow of the winning post.
1. 1989 Gold Cup: Dessie strikes Gold
‘On my tombstone it won’t be “David Elsworth, racehorse trainer”, it will probably have “David Elsworth trainer of — in big letters — Desert Orchid”, and I would be very honoured to have that.’ David Elsworth
Desert Orchid was the horse of a lifetime. He captured the hearts of not only horse racing fans but the general public. His victory in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup was remarkable for a number of reasons; he was previously considered a two-miler and therefore the Gold Cup trip of three-and-a-quarter miles in very soft ground around a racecourse that he didn’t enjoy in Cheltenham was not a recipe for success. This was his sixth consecutive attempt to win at the Cheltenham Festival and following a deluge of snow and rain, racing was only given the go-ahead at midday. In the race itself, the mud-loving Yahoo sauntered past Dessie who looked like he had nothing left to give. Fuelled by the raucous Cheltenham crowd, ‘Dessie’ and jockey Simon Sherwood managed to muster one final challenge after the final fence to inch their way past Yahoo and into Cheltenham folklore.