Simon Sherwood recalls his ride on Desert Orchid in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup
I looked out of my window on Gold Cup morning to four inches of snow outside. This was a nightmare scenario for Dessie – he hated Cheltenham in heavy ground.
Going down to the start the ground was pretty desperate. The tape went up, and as always Dessie was fighting to get to the front, where he liked to be, dictating the race.
For the first circuit we were out in front although Dessie was jumping to the right. Ten Plus, another front runner, and Charter Party were ranging upsides me but Dessie seemed to be enjoying himself and we kept our position.
As we went down to the water for the last time we were starting to struggle and the rest of the field was queuing up behind us. Kevin Mooney and Ten Plus kicked on and a few of the others were around us but Dessie put in some big leaps and we held on.
Then we hit the fourth last hard. Luckily we came out running and by the next we were back on the bridle. Sadly Ten Plus took a horrible fall, a fatal one, as it turned out.
We were left out in front but then Yahoo appeared, a mudlark who loved the conditions. Two from home, Yahoo and Tom Morgan cruised past and I thought we were beaten. Then 10 yards before the last, Dessie changed legs and accelerated and I knew we were back in with a chance.
On the run-in I was absolutely knackered and Dessie was tired too but we heard the roar of the crowd and just dug deep and found a bit of energy from somewhere. From then on it was Desert Orchid’s sheer guts and determination to win which got him up that famous hill. I have never sat on a horse that showed such courage.
Fifty yards from the line I knew we had won. It wasa feeling I’ll never experience again. I was virtually in tears and the whole crowd had gone mad. Everywhere I looked I could see people cheering and throwing their hats up. I felt like punching the air.
At the time I was numb to the whole thing. It seemed like a dream. It was only later when you hear people’s reactions and anecdotes that it really hits home.
Desert Orchid was a very special horse: tough and charismatic. There were times when I rode him when I could say that his performance was almost faultless, but this race wasn’t like that. It was a sheer guts performance.
Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (18 April) where Ginny Elliot talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ on Priceless.
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