The Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the most famous horse races of them all and here we give you our top five renewals of the race in the 21st Century.
Yet to go under starters orders when Arkle was running riot in the 1960’s, and mere nippers at the time of Desert Orchid’s emotional triumph in 1989, our list of favourite ever Gold Cups will inevitably be skewed to more recent times. Having said all that though, we really have been spoilt rotten since the turn of the century as the Cheltenham Festival showpiece has thrown up some real crackers.
Here is our top five. (Be sure to check out our Cheltenham Gold Cup tips and preview for this year too!)
2012: Synchronised: Gold Again For McCoy
A second and final Gold Cup for the greatest ever jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, this race had just about everything you could ask for from the Day Four highlight.
Run at a strong pace throughout, it looked as though The Giant Bolster and former champ Long Run had the race between them after the last. As so often happens coming up the hill though, the pair began to wilt ever so slightly, and looking a little further back there was one horse staying on relentlessly in behind.
In the driving seat was a certain Sir Anthony McCoy, who’s determination matched that of his mount, Synchronised, as the pair forged clear for a 2 ¼l success.
The race also marked the final racecourse appearance of one of the greatest horses of the modern era, Kauto Star. Never travelling at any stage, the old boy was pulled up in the end, but did at least get to bow out in front of the stands from which he had been cheered him to the rafters in years gone by.
2004: Best Mate 3
There had been a few multiple winners of the Gold Cup prior to 2004, with Golden Miller winning five times and Arkle and Cottage Rake three times apiece. For the current generation though, the king when it comes to multiple winners of the race is the Henrietta Knight-trained Best Mate.
There was a lot to like about all three of Best Mate’s Triumphs; from the promise fulfillment of his debut success in 2002, to the sheer class of the 2003 10 length demolition job. In terms of pure drama and excitement though, the 2004 edition is tough to beat.
Overcoming slightly declining ability, in addition to a few questionable tactics employed by the jockeys of his rivals, Best Mate had to pull out all the stops here to fend off first Harbour Pilot and then Sir Rembrandt on the final punishing run up the hill. Best Mate had an abundance of class, but it was his heart which carried him home this day.
No subtitle required for this one. For anyone who witnessed this Paul Nicholls runner in his pomp, the name of Denman conjures up images of remorseless, determined galloping and jumping, at a pace which the majority of his rivals simply could not hope to match. There was nothing subtle about Denman, with his preferred method of victory being to grind the opposition into submission.
He didn’t quite lead all the way here, as stablemate Neptune Collonges went with him for a long way, but once asked to go to the front when setting out on the final circuit, the response was devastating. Kicking on again following the fourth last, he pulled 12 lengths clear at one stage, with jockey Sam Thomas able to take a long look book at his toiling rivals; eventual runner up Kauto Star amongst their number. Crossing the line seven lengths to the good, this was an awesome display from an awesome horse.
2011: Long Run: Youngster Wins but What A Show From The Old Boys
Only third in the RSA Chase at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson’s Long Run had served notice that he was a much-improved performer in the 2010/11 campaign when turning that season’s King George into a procession. Sent off the 7/2f favourite here, the six year old duly emerged in front at the line, pulling seven lengths clear in the closing stages.
One horse does not make a race though and runners-up don’t come any more gallant than the second and third that day. Two of the most popular horses in a generation, Denman and Kauto Star laid it all on the line here, with each horse hitting the front at some stage in the final third of the race.
Both aged 11 at the time of the race, it was Kauto Star who cracked first, although the mount of Ruby Walsh still hung on for an admirable third. The uncrackable Denman didn’t wilt as such, but once the younger legs of Long Run loomed into contention, it was soon clear that Denman didn’t quite have the pace in the old legs to go with him, for all that he tried.
A true classic!
2009: Kauto Star 2: The Return Of The King
It is often mentioned that the Gold Cup is the single toughest race of the year to win, even harder to come back and defend the title. How tough a task must it then be to win a Gold Cup, relinquish your title and then come back and win it again?
So tough, that only one horse has ever achieved it. His name of course was Kauto Star. Coming home in front in 2007, when seeing off Exotic Dancer by two and half legnths, he was then sent off odds on favourite for the 2008 edition, despite a less than ideal preparation. Much like everything else in the field that day, Kauto Star was simply blown away by Denman but did finish second.
12 months on and on the back of a lighter campaign, the most popular horse in training was back to show what he could do. In a simply breath-taking display of acceleration at the end of such an arduous contest, Kauto Star made everything else look as though they were treading water, pulling further and further clear to score by 13 lengths.
Amongst many brilliant performances in the career of Kauto Star, this astonishing display may very well have been the best.
Planning a bet on this year’s Cheltenham Festival? Take a look at the best Cheltenham offers and free bets before you do!