Cheltenham Gold Cup 2002 – Best Mate

The Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002 had the distinction of being the first renewal for two years after the 2001 event, along with the Cheltenham Festival in its entirety, was first postponed and then cancelled, after the whole of Cheltenham Racecourse fell within a foot-and-mouth. Unsurprisingly, it was a competitive renewal, numerically, with a total of eighteen runners facing the starter. Looks Like Trouble and Florida Pearl, first and second in 2000, and See More Business and Go Ballistic, first and second in 1999, were back again, while other leading fancies included Best Mate and Bacchanal, who had filled the places behind Florida Pearl in the King George VI Chase at Kempton the previous Boxing Day.

Defending champion Looks Like Trouble was sent off favourite, at 9/2, and set out to make all the running under Richard Johnson. However, ten-year-old weakened from the third-last fence and finished a tailed off thirteenth, and last of the finishers, over 80 lengths behind the winner. The 1999 winner, See More Business, by now a doughty twelve-year-old, ran a highly creditable race in defeat, racing prominently throughout the second circuit and only surrendering the lead at the second-last fence.

However, thereafter See More Business was outpaced by two younger horses, the nine-year-old Commanche Court, trained by Ted Walsh and ridden by his son, Ruby, and the seven-year-old Best Mate, trained by Henrietta Knight and ridden by Jim Culloty. Former Triumph Hurdle winner Commanche Court was headed by Best Mate on the run to the final fence and, although he rallied under pressure on the run-in, could make no impression on his rival in the closing stages and eventually went down by 1¾ lengths. See More Business finished a respectable third, a further eight lengths away.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2006 – War Of Attrition

Alongside the 1982 renewal, won by Silver Buck, the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup jointly featured the most competitive field in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event. Remarkably, while just four of the 22-strong field were trained in Ireland, one of them started favourite and the other three filled the first three places; indeed, since the Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924, Irish trainers had never before managed a 1-2-3.

Despite having tried, and failed, to win the Gold Cup on three previous occasions and never having won outside Ireland, Beef Or Salmon, trained by Michael Hourigan and ridden by Paul Carberry, was sent off favourite at 4/1. Monkerhostin, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, was the pick of the home contingent at 13/2, with the bookmakers laying 15/2 bar the front pair at the ‘off’. Sadly for his connections, Beef Or Salmon once again failed to produce his best form at Prestbury Park and was beaten a long way from home, eventually trailing in eleventh of the eighteen finishers.

By contrast, the other three Irish-trained runners dominated the finish. War Of Attrition, trained by Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, was steered wide by jockey Conor O’Dwyer but, nevertheless, took the lead at the bypassed third-last fence and stayed on strongly on the run-in to win by 2½ lengths. The 2005 Grand National winner, Hedgehunter, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, finished second, while Forget The Past, trained by Michael O’Brien and ridden by Barry Geraghty, finished third to complete a clean sweep for Irish trainers.

Indeed, Forget The Past was only beaten 9½ lengths in total and may well have finished closer to the front pair but for hitting three of the last four fences. Nevertheless, winning jockey Conor O’Dwyer reflected on his comfortable victory, saying, “It was an easy ride; he pinged the last two fences when he just stood off and he loves racing.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2000 – Looks Like Trouble

The Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2000 was run on unseasonably fast, good to firm, going and, unsurprising, produced a winning time of 6 minutes 30.3 seconds, which shaved 0.6 seconds off the previous record, set by 100/1 outsider Norton’s Coin. See More Business, Go Ballistic and Florida Pearl, who had filled the first three places in the 1999 renewal, were once again in opposition and were joined by Looks Like Trouble, a wide margin winner of the Pillar Property Chase on his previous start, and the talented novice, Gloria Victis, in the twelve-strong field.

Indeed, it was the six-year-old Gloria Victis, trained by Martin Pipe and ridden by A.P. McCoy, who set a frenetic pace and, despite jumping right, was still in front approaching the penultimate fence. However, the 13/2 chance took a crashing, and ultimately fatal, fall, as 9/2 joint-second favourite Florida Pearl quickened into the lead, only to be outjumped by the other 9/2 joint-second favourite Looks Like Trouble at the final obstacle. Thereafter, Looks Like Trouble stayed on gamely to win by five lengths from Florida Pearl, with 20/1 chance Strong Promise – previously runner-up to Cool Dawn in the 1998 renewal – a further neck away in third place.

Defending champion, and 9/4 favourite, See More Business ran creditably. According to trainer Paul Nicholls, the fast ground ‘was too much for him’ but, having lost his place when the race began in earnest from the third-last fence, the ten-year-old rallied in the closing stages to finish fourth, just six lengths behind the winner. Looks Like Trouble was a first for Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Richard Johnson, but a second in four years for trainer Noel Chance, who also saddled Mr. Mulligan, ridden by A.P. McCoy, to win the prestigious event in 1999.

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.”