Cheltenham Gold Cup 2004

Prior to the 2004 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the list of horses to win the ‘Blue Riband’ event three times or more was limited to Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle. Consequently, the build-up to the 2004 renewal focused on Best Mate, trained by Henrietta Knight, who was attempting an improbable hat-trick, but was nonetheless sent off as 8/11 favourite to do so.

Ridden by Jim Culloty, Best Mate tracked the leaders, travelling and jumping well, for most of the way. Having made headway approaching the third-last fence, he was briefly short of room on the bend approaching the second-last but, once switched outside, quickened to challenge and soon took a narrow lead. It soon became apparent that Best Mate had the measure of the eventual third, Harbour Pilot, but Sir Rembrandt belied his 33/1 starting price by delivering a strong late challenge that carried him with half a length of Best Mate. In another stride or two, Sir Rembrandt may have won, but Best Mate held on to win his third consecutive Gold Cup and write his name into Cheltenham folklore. Winning trainer Henrietta Knight said, with justification, ‘He’s had the toughest race of his life today.”

Immediately after his dogged win, Best Mate was offered at 2/1, generally, to become the first steeplechaser since Golden Miller, in the Thirties, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup four years running. However, he was a late withdrawal from the 2005 renewal with a burst blood vessel and on his reappearance at Exeter the following November, collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack. His Timeform Annual Rating of 182 was the equivalent to that award to follow Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Captain Christy, See More Business and Kicking King, among others.

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