Shortlists are getting shorter, race options are being weighed up and the preparation for Cheltenham is beginning to hot up.
So too, is the countdown of our most memorable Festival memories.
From Gold Cup wins to Coral Cup late-comers, numbers six to 10 feature a wide variety of equine superstars who have made their name at Prestbury Park.
10. Plenty left in the Tank up the hill – 2008
Not only were they stable-mates but Denman and Kauto Star were so often thrown into battle against one-another at Prestbury Park.
The latter may have taken the Gold Cup spoils in 2009, but it is ‘The Tank’s’ victory of 2008 that sticks in the mind.
Taking up the running down the back straight on the second circuit, Sam Thomas’ mount jumped with aplomb, and had the field struggling from some way out, as he ran out an authoritative 7l winner.
It may only have made number 10 in our list, but Channel 4 Racing’s Nick Luck holds this contest in high regard…
- 9. What’s Up Boys leaves them wondering where he came from – 2000
Jumping the second last in the 2000 Coral Cup, you’d have got a huge price on What’s Up Boys taking the 2m5f contest.
With a full 12 horses in front of him, the grey’s chance looked to have gone.
Native Dara was still 5l clear jumping the last, and looked all over the winner.
But we had not factored in how Paul Flynn’s mount seemed to grow wings up the Cheltenham hill, snatching victory right in front of the stands.
8. Monksfield makes it 2-0 over Sea Pigeon – 1979
While Kauto Star v Denman may have been near the top of the chasing rivalries, little compares to the contests between Monksfield and Sea Pigeon over the smaller obstacles.
The pair clashed three times in the Champion Hurdle in a trio of battles that will live long in the memory, and it’s the second of Monksfield’s victories in 1979 that makes our shortlist.
As the hill approached, Dessie Hughes was working away to keep his mount ahead of Sea Pigeon, who towered over the smaller horse.
His old rival put his head in front, but the gallant seven-year-old was not for passing as he fought back to secure a famous Champion Hurdle double.
- 7. The Black Aeroplane takes full flight – 2013
While we mull over whether ‘The Black Aeroplane’ is at anywhere near his best ahead of his Cheltenham return in the Champion Chase, there was no doubting how special he was in the 2013 running.
The contest become somewhat of a match race between the defending champion Sizing Europe and the previous year’s Arkle hero.
Nicky Henderson’s gelding took it up at the third-last, and even allowing for a slip by his closest rival turning in, was an explosive winner of the 2m contest.
Rarely will you see an easier winner of a Grade 1 race, and all racing fans will be hoping Caroline Mould’s horse is somewhere near that showing at the Festival next week.
- 6. Bregawn leads home a epic feat for Dickinson – 1983
Training the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a momentous achievement, saddling the first two home is impressive indeed, but what about sending out the first five home in jumps racing’s biggest event?
Michael Dickinson fired five bullets at the 1983 Festival showpiece in Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House, and that was the order they came up that famous hill in.
Just 33-years old at the time, Dickinson didn’t come close to matching those exploits in his subsequent exploits as a trainer, switching to the flat the following year.
Bregawn himself may not have been the same horse after, but he certainly takes his place in horse racing folklore for good reason.
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