Best Mate’s runaway victory in today’s Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup was delivered in the style of a true champion.
After the magnificent eight-year-old had cantered over his field for a 10-length victory his ecstatic trainer Henrietta Knight said with a beaming smile: “He is not a horse in a million – he’s a horse in several million.”
Best Mate became the first horse since L’Escargot in 1971 to win back-to-back Gold Cups. But forget that statistic, he didn’t just win, he pulverized the best chasers in England and Ireland, coming home 10 lengths ahead of Truckers Tavern, with Harbour Pilot two-and-a-half lengths back in third.
He jumped into the lead coming down the hill three fences from home with Jim Culloty swinging off him. The moment he touched down safely the crowd roared. They knew they were witnessing history.
Sure enough Best Mate skipped over the penultimate fence and the cheering reached a crescendo as he jumped the last. Culloty said: “The only thing going through my mind was ‘don’t deck him’.
“On the run-in the crowd was going madand I thought perhaps there was something coming to challenge me. With the sun in my eyes I was looking for shadows and I couldn’t see any.”
Ms Knight says Best Mate, who started 13-8 favourite, will have two runs next season, one in the King George V1 Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, before returning to bid for his Gold Cup hat-trick.
The last horse to achieve that was the mighty Arkle, arguably the greatest steeplechaser there has ever been. At this stage it would be going over the top to put Best Mate in the same bracket as the Irish legend.
But Ms Knight has insisted: “Best Mate always thinks he is Arkle.” In 12 months time it may not be unrealistic to draw a comparison between the two. Best Mate is already as short as 6-4to make it three in a row.
Much of the Irish interest vanished when second favourite Beef Or Salmon fell at the third fence. But take nothing away from Best Mate. This was the coronation of a true champion.