Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 – Synchronised

The 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured fourteen runners, including reigning champion Long Run and dual winner Kauto Star. A fortnight previously, Paul Nicholls, trainer of Kauto Star had rated his charge only ‘50-50’ to participate in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after a fall while schooling at home. Nevertheless, the pair dominated the betting, with Long Run sent off favourite, at 7/4, and Kauto Star next-best, at 3/1. The bookmakers went 8/1 bar the front two, which brought in Midnight Chase, trained by Neil Mulholland, Synchronised, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, Burton Port, trained by Nicky Henderson and Weird Al, trained by Donald McCain.

Once underway, Midnight Chase took the field along at a generous pace, but it soon became clear that jockey Ruby Walsh was less than happy with Kauto Star. After racing prominently in the early stages, the twelve-year-old lost his place and, after a mistake at the eighth fence, was pulled up before halfway. At the fourth-last fence, Midnight Chase blundered and surrendered the lead to Time For Rupert but, approaching two out, he was swamped by the horses that would eventually fight out the finish. The Giant Bolster, a largely unconsidered 50/1 outsider, took over at the head of affairs, but was pressed at the final fence by Long Run and Synchronised.

Long Run, though, could not summon the acceleration that had carried him to victory in 2011 and could only keep on at one pace on the run-in. By contrast, Synchronised, who had been off the bridle for most of the way, led soon after the final fence and kept on gamely to beat The Giant Bolster, who rallied for second place, by 2¼ lengths. Long Run eventually finished third, a further three-quarters of a length away. Winning jockey Tony McCoy later reflected on the victory of Synchronised, saying, ‘…when I missed the third-last I thought my chance had gone.’

Cheltenham Gold Cup 1963 – Mill House

History records that the career of Mill House – who remains the joint-fourth highest-rated steeplechaser since the early Sixties, according to Timeform – was largely over shadowed by Arkle, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running, in 1964, 1965 and 1966. However, when Mill House lined up, as a six-year-old, for his first attempt in the Cheltenham Hold Cup in 1963, he was hailed as the best horse in Britain in some quarters.

Owned by Bill Gollings and trained by Fulke Walwyn – who almost invariably referred to him as ‘The Big Horse’, on account of his near-seventeen hand height – Mill House was compared with multiple Gold Cup-winners Golden Miller and Easter Hero and was, at that stage, considered unbeatable. The 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup did little to counter that belief; the Tom Dreaper-trained Fortria, who had finished second, beaten just a length, behind Mandarin in the 1962 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was expected to pose a threat, but the projected duel failed to materialise.

Ridden by his regular partner, Willie Robinson, Mill House travelled and jumped imperiously throughout and, as soon as he was given his head turning for home, it became clear that, barring accidents, the race was all over bar the shouting. Another flying leap at the final fence put the result beyond any doubt and the towering bay gelding galloped home in splendid isolation, to rapturous applause from the home contingent. Fortria and Duke Of York both stayed on gamely in the closing stages, but there was no catching Mill House, who eventually beat Fortria by 12 lengths with Duke Of York a further 4 lengths away in third place.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008 – Denman

The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured just twelve runners, but included Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer, first and second in the 2007 renewal and Denman, winner of the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival and hitherto unbeaten over fences. Of course, Kauto Star and Denman, along with lesser-fancied stable companion Neptune Collonges, were saddled by Paul Nicholls but, even so, the race was billed in some quarters as the most eagerly-awaited renewal of the Gold Cup since Arkle beat Mill House in 1964.

The betting market had a slightly lopsided look to it, with defending champion Kauto Star sent off odds-on favourite at 10/11, ahead of Denman at 9/4, Exotic Dancer at 17/2 and 16/1 bar the leading trio, which brought in the narrow Welsh National runner-up Halcon Genelardais. Once the race was underway, 25/1 chance Neptune Collonges, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, cut out the running until early on the second circuit, but was headed by Denman, ridden by Sam Thomas, at the twelfth fence. Thereafter, the Presenting gelding was never headed and, although jumping the fourth-last fence less than fluently, soon went clear.

Kauto Star, whose jumping had lacked fluency throughout, gave chase under Ruby Walsh from the third last, but could make no real impression on Denman in the closing stages and had to settle for a creditable second, seven lengths behind the winner. The early leader, Neptune Collonges, rallied gamely from the second last and stayed on strongly to close to within a short head of Kauto Star at the line. In so doing, he completed a notable 1-2-3 in the ‘Blue Riband’ event for trainer Paul Nicholls, who said, “That was brilliant. It’s brilliant for the whole team.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup 1991 – Garrison Savannah

The 1991 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured 14 runners, including the last two winners, Desert Orchid and Norton’s Coin, and two future winners, in the form of Cool Ground and The Fellow. Favourite, though, was Celtic Shot, trained by Charlie Brooks and ridden by Peter Scudamore; the nine-year-old had finished a remote, 24-length fourth to Desert Orchid in the King George VI Chase at Kempton the previous Boxing Day, after blundering at halfway, but had returned to winning form with a 4-length victory over Toby Tobias in his preparatory race at Cheltenham a month later.

In the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Celtic Shot weakened after a mistake at the third-last fence, when still in the lead, and eventually trailed in seventh, beaten 22¼ lengths. Ironically, victory in the ‘Blue Riband’ event went to Garrison Savannah, whom Celtic Shot had beaten by 8 lengths, in receipt of just 2lb, in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock the previous December.

Trained by Jenny Pitman in Lambourn, Berkshire, Garrison Savannah had won what is now the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 1990, after stable companion, and favourite, Royal Athlete fell, but had raced just once since. Consequently, he started at odds of 16/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nevertheless, under regular partner Mark Pitman, Garrison Savannah raced prominently and, having taken over from the weakening Celtic Shot at the head of affairs three fences from home, soon established what appeared to be a commanding lead.

However, The Fellow, who had made progress from the top of the hill, summoned a tremendous run from the final fence and, at the line, Garrison Savannah was all out to hold on. Despite running on well in the closing stages, The Fellow was agonisingly denied by just a short-head. Desert Orchid, by now a twelve-year-old, stayed on gamely from the second-last fence, but a respectable third, beaten 15 lengths, was the best the iconic grey could manage on what would be his last appearance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.