Cheltenham Memories: We countdown our best Festival moments
It is National Hunt racing’s showpiece event and nothing comes close to the excitement and the passion expelled during the Cheltenham Festival.
Over the years we’ve seen big priced winners, dominant favourites, tears of joy and tears of sadness, frankly, too many talking points to mention.
But for racing fans, the week in March at Prestbury Park holds a special place in their calendars.
So, with the day’s ticking down until that famous roar, we are counting down our top 25 Cheltenham memories, starting with numbers 21 to 25.
- 25. Hunt Ball completes a season to remember – 2012
Starting off the campaign winning a £1.9k Class 5 handicap at Folkestone off a mark of 69 didn’t suggest big things were in store for Anthony Knott’s horse.
But having won five of his next six starts, his rating skyrocketed to 142, leaving him lumbered with top weight in the Pulteney Land Novices’ Handicap Chase.
This didn’t put off punters however, with the seven-year-old backed into 13/2 favouritism.
And despite having to shoulder a whopping 12st, Nick Scholfield’s mount turned the race into a procession, taking the contest by 8l for his colourful owner.
Few horses have caused a bigger Arkle upset than Western Warhorse did in 2014.
Sent off the 33/1 outsider, Tom Scudamore’s mount fought gamely to deny the Irish trained joint favourites Champagne Fever and Trifolium by a head and 4l respectively.
In taking the prize, David Pipe’s horse emulated another former inmate at Nicholshayne in Well Chief, becoming just the second contender to take the Arkle after having just one previous run over fences.
- 23. Gold Cup number one for McCoy – 1997
In a week when the great AP McCoy announced his imminent retirement it is rather apt that his first success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup makes it on to the list.
His mount in the 1997 contest, Mr Mulligan, a 16/1 shot, wouldn’t have won any prizes for his looks.
Richard Edmonson in The Independent described how he “was no oil painting, rather something a child might produce on the kitchen table with a crayon”, while his owner simply referred to him as “a great orange thing”.
None of that mattered though, when the awkward looking chestnut led from the front to take jumps racing’s showpiece event, launching McCoy into the spotlight.
22. Norton’s Coin takes gold at 100/1 – 1990
Few winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup will be greeted past the winning post with such silence.
But apart from a few who had seized the opportunity to back a 100/1 shot in the big one, not many would have given Norton’s Coin much of a look in when perusing the racecard.
In his previous race Sirrell Griffiths’ gelding had been beaten 15½l in the (now Class 3) Harwell Handicap Chase at Newbury, and had yet to taste victory that season.
However with Cheltenham win already to his name, he clearly loved a run up that famous hill, so ably demonstrated when out-gunning the likes of Desert Orchid and Toby Tobias to shock everyone.
21. Johnson reduces Jacobs to tears – 2014
It may not be the most glamorous race at the festival, but the 2014 renewal of the Pertemps Final certainly played out a rip-roaring finish.
As the leaders hit the line, there were four horses all within a solitary length of one-another, but it was Richard Johnson and Fingal Bay that were just declared the winner, with Southfield Theatre in second and subsequent Grand National winner Pineau De Re back in third.
It was all a bit too much to take for Daryl Jacob on the runner-up, and the waterworks were soon turned on, such was the agony of having only a second Festival winner snatched away from him.