Did King Charles III ever ride at the Cheltenham Festival?
As into horse racing as many surely are, this is certainly a ‘What are the cheltenham odds for that one?’ moment, as I’ve found that most don’t know the answer to this racing question. The short answer though is yes, he did, albeit just once and without distinction. A year or so before his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981, when he was still, of course, Prince of Wales, Charles embarked on a brief, and ultimately fruitless, career as a amateur jockey. Although 31 years old and 5’10” tall, Charles started well enough, although he later admitted that the death of his first horse, Allibar, who collapsed and died from a heart attack when he was ridng out on the Berkshire Downs, ‘nearly finished’ him.
As a replacement for Allibar, Charles bought Good Prospect, who was already a Cheltenham Festival winner, having won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup in 1980, when ridden by leading amateur jockey Jim Wilson. On their first outing together, at Sandown Park, Good Prospect unseated his new owner at the fourth-last fence, leaving the heir apparent bruised and bloodied. Undaunted, a few days later, Charles was back in the saddle – although, as noted by one television commentator of day, riding markedly longer than at Sandown – for another attempt at the Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
Just before halfway in the three-and-a-quarter mile contest, at the tenth fence, Good Prospect made a jolting blunder, giving Charles ‘absolutely no hope of recovery’. Thankfully, horse and rider were unscathed, but the future king vented his frustration by exclaiming, ‘Bloody hell!’ and beating his whip on the Prestbury Park turf. He later admitted, ‘I wasn’t nearly experienced enough to stay on!’ After his Festival mishap, Charles rode just once more in public, finishing unplaced on Upton Grey, owned by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, at Newton Abbott the following May.