Cheltenham Gold Cup 2003 – Best Mate

The Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2003 featured fifteen runners, but the race was really all about one of them, Best Mate, who was attempting to become the first horse since L’Escargot, in 1971, to record back-to-back victories in the ‘Blue Riband’ event. Trained by Henrietta Knight and ridden by Jim Culloty, Best Mate had already beaten Commanche Court and See More Business in the 2002 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and, fresh from victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, was sent off a short-priced favourite, at 13/8, to do so again.

Pick of the opposition, at least on paper, appeared to be the seven-year-old novice steeplechaser, Beef Or Salmon, trained by Michael Hourigan and ridden by Timmy Murphy. Hitherto unbeaten in four starts over fences, including two Grade One victories at Leopardstown, Beef Or Salmon was sent off 5/1 second favourite, but departed as early as the third of the twenty-two fences, leaving Best Mate with an apparently easy task.

So it proved, with Jim Culloty moving Best Mate into a challenging position at the fourth-last fence and cruising past stable companion Chives as the field turned for home. Thereafter, it soon became evident that, barring accidents, Best Mate would win, and win comfortably. The eight-year-old Un Desperado gelding went clear approaching the second-last fence and sauntered home for an easy, ten-length win. His nearest pursuer, the 33/1 chance Truckers Tavern, stayed on to take second, 2½ lengths ahead of another largely unconsidered outsider, 40/1 chance Harbour Pilot, but neither of the placed horses ever held any realistic chance with the winner.

The day belonged firmly to Best Mate, who established himself as arguably the best, and most popular, steeplechaser since Desert Orchid, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. Enthusiastic owner Jim Lewis said afterwards, “I’ve got a heart here going so fast it could beat eggs.”