Best Mate raced into history yesterday as he became a three-time winner of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. He is the first horse to achieve the feat since Arkle completed the hat trick in 1966.
First Gold, under Thierry Doumen, set a quick pace and made the running for most of the race, but a bold jump at the second last put Best Mate in touch. There was an anxious moment as the nine-year-old was boxed in by Harbour Pilot and Sir Rembrandt, who had made fantastic progress on the outside, but Jim Culloty held on and Best Mate proved just too good.
Owner Jim Lewis admitted that during the nail-biting finish, he had been “preparing for the worst”.
“I was saying my prayers and looking up to heaven, asking my mum and dad for a bit of help. I was ready to lose and it will happen one day, but Jim got out of jail and our dreams live on for a bit longer,” he said.
Crossing the post only half a length behind the champion was Sir Rembrandt, a 33-1 outside chance. Only one-and-a-quarter lengths separated him from third placed Harbour Pilot.
A year of extensive treatment for an injury sustained last season has clearly paid off for Beef or Salmon. The eight-year-old had a great run to finish a close fourth. Keen Leader performed at nothing like his best, but stayed on to take sixth place behind First Gold.
Therealbandit was sent out with high hopes of emulating Captain Christy’s feat of 1974, when the novice won the race. Since then, 18 first season chasers have attempted to take the title, and none have succeeded. Therealbandit never really managed to convincingly shake off his novice status, and made a poor showing in the race.
Of the “Famous Four” who returned to Cheltenham this week to defend their titles, only “Matey” triumphed.
In the bonusprint.com Stayers’ Hurdle, Baracouda fought a valiant battle coming from behind, and at the second last, the crowd emitted an expectant roar. But his historic hat-trick was not to be, and revenge was sweet for Iris’ Gift. He turned the tables to defeat the defending champion, to whom he came home a close second in this race last year.
Earlier in the week, Irish outsider Hardy Eustace defeated hot favourite Rooster Booster to win the Smurfit Champion Hurdle. On Wednesday, Moscow Flyer’s occasionally erratic jumping let him down in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He does however maintain his record of being unbeaten in his finishes.
One favourite who fulfilled his promise was jockey Ruby Walsh. He had started the festival at 5-2 to land the title, and confirmed his festival champion status when he returned victorious in the final race yesterday, the Victor O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle. On board a mount he had not been due to ride, this was his third win of the festival, and he was a popular man to be crowned leading festival jockey.
Trainer Paul Nicholls notched up four wins to take the title of leading trainer at the festival, but the real champion was undoubtedly Best Mate.