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9 Feb 2017

Cheltenham's Most Memorable Moments in History

Ask anyone on the street to name the biggest race of the year, and the odds are that nine out of ten will tell you the Grand National. However, walk into any bookmakers in the land, and all you’ll hear is Cheltenham this and Gold Cup that. There’s something about the Cheltenham Race Festival that draws us all in. From Ruby Walsh’s total dominance to long shot winners, the meet just keeps throwing up historical moments year after year.

Dessie’s Gold Cup

Even those of us that weren’t yet old enough to place a bet will remember the 1989 Gold Cup for the sheer emotion of the day. Desert Orchid, arguably the most popular Gold Cup winner in history, ran through monsoon-like weather conditions to beat the likes of West Tip and Charter Party against all the odds. So loved was Dessie that when he died at the age of 27 the entire nation, Her Majesty included, mourned his passing.

Norton’s Coin takes Dessie’s crown

Only a year after Dessie’s incredible win, we had one of the biggest upsets in Gold Cup history when 100/1 long shot Norton’s Coin won by three-quarters of a length. Owner Sirrel Griffiths, a Welsh farmer with just three horses in his stables, admitted that he had only entered Norton’s Coin in the Gold Cup after he missed the deadline for a handicap contest. A quirk of fate that led to one of the most memorable races in Cheltenham’s history that saw Toby Tobias place second and Dessie come home in third. 

The cancelled festival

The foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 saw festival organisers move veritable mountains in their quest to ensure that the meeting go ahead. Having rescheduled the fixture for April, racegoers were optimistic that the meet would remain unaffected by the outbreak. But when authorities discovered a new case of foot and mouth disease in a village just five miles from the course, there was no option but to cancel the festival. In 2008 the second day was cancelled due to storms, but 2001 remains the only time that organisers called off the meeting completely.

Ruby’s record

It’s near impossible to talk of Cheltenham without mentioning the incredible records of Ruby Walsh. The Kildare native’s name is now synonymous with the festival, but it was at the 2009 meeting that he put his name in the record books forever. That year he rode seven winners, the most ever at a meeting and a record that he again equalled in 2016. An incredible feat, but we would expect nothing less from one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Hardy Eustace’s Champion Hurdle

Lining up against the defending champion Rooster Booster, Hardy Eustace was an unfancied 33/1 shot in the 2004 Champion Hurdle. He had just suffered four defeats over hurdles in quick succession, and not many gave him the slightest chance. But Conor O’Dwyer rode a classic race finishing five lengths ahead of Rooster Booster. Trained by Dessie Hughes, he successfully defended his crown in 2005 at considerably shorter odds of 7/2. 

This year's favourite for the Gold Cup is without doubt Thistlecrack, with stablemate Native River and dual runner-up Djakadam the obvious main challengers. But looking down the list of Cheltenham Gold Cup runners for this year and their prices has us wondering if we're due an upset. Could the aptly named Perfect Candidate romp home at 200/1? It seems highly unlikely but what a story it would make and certainly one to add to the list of Cheltenham’s most memorable moments.