Cheltenham’s Open Meeting: The springboard to success
Last year’s Open Meeting was a feast of future Cheltenham Festival winners, with Taquin Du Seuil and Balthazar King triumphing en route to further success at Prestbury Park.
But while the pair are extremely useful sorts, they are far from the crème de la crème of runners that have reigned victorious at this meeting before winning a Festival race.
And believe me, there are some greats that have delivered on this weekend in years gone by.
Although he may not be the most well-known horse to modern racing fans, he was a serious beast in the early 60s.
Trained in County Meath, Tom Dreaper’s charge landed the inaugural Mackeson’s Gold Cup (now the Paddy Power Gold Cup), having already won at the very highest level.
But following his victory in the winter of 1960, he stepped it up a notch, winning the Champion Chase a second time and the Irish Grand National that season being just some of his career highlights.
A switch to fences seemed to be the making of Paul Nicholls’ gelding, starting off with a victory by a distance at Market Rasen, he faced the first big test of his chasing career in the November Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
In dispatching a decent field by 16l, it is perhaps no surprise that he was sent off favourite for the Arkle.
He duly obliged at the festival, and then added another string to his bow when following up the next year by bagging the Champion Chase.
A true battler of a horse, who belied his small stature to land some of the biggest prizes on offer, Katchit was certainly one to defy the odds.
Alan King’s horse made his fourth appearance over timber at the Open Meeting, winning the Prestbury Novices’ Hurdle, in a truly ground out style.
His love affair with Cheltenham continued with wins at the International meeting and on Festival Trials day, before routing the field in the Triumph Hurdle.
But he wasn’t done there. In 2007 he became the first winner of the Triumph Hurdle since Persian War in 1968 to follow up and land the Champion Hurdle.
Another who followed up with a winner at this meeting, not once, but twice, and the second time claiming one of the most sought after prizes in jumps racing.
Nigel Twiston Davies’ stable star clearly loved Cheltenham, being pitched there in six of his first seven races over fences, winning five of them. The fourth of those was in 2008’s Paddy Power Gold Cup when he upset royalists to pip the Queen’s Barber Shop to the prize.
Victory in the Ryanair Chase at the following year’s festival followed, but it didn’t end there. It wasn’t until 12 months later that his biggest moment would come when he saw off the greats of Denman and Kauto Star to land the Gold Cup.
We’ve perhaps saved the best until last, although a win at the Open Meeting didn’t directly prelude a festival success, it was probably worth the wait for Henrietta Knight.
The fact that his death was front page news probably shows how dearly Best Mate was held in public regard, but you wouldn’t have known what was coming when he landed the November Novices’ Chase at the meeting in 2000.
Fast forward 16 months and Jim Culloty was guiding the great horse to the first of three straight Gold Cups in impressive style.
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