Which was the last grey horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The last grey horse – in fact, the only grey horse – to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup was Desert Orchid in 1989. The iconic grey had been beaten of five previous appearances at the Cheltenham Festival, twice in the Champion Hurdle, once in the Arkle Challenge Trophy and twice in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Nevertheless, on treacherous, barely raceable ground and going left-handed – he was, according to jockey Simon Sherwood, ‘a two stone lesser horse going that way’ – Desert Orchid was sent off 5/2 favourite for his first attempt in the ‘Blue Riband’ event of steeplechasing.

‘Dessie’, as he was affectionately known to his legions of supporters, raced prominently for most of the way and was left in the lead when Ten Plus fell at the third last. However, the confirmed mudlark Yahoo, clearly relishing the atrocious underfoot conditions, arrived on the scene, travelling well, on the home turn and looked all over the winner. Galvanised by Simon Sherwood, Desert Orchid rallied gamely between the final two fences and was almost upsides again jumping the last. On the climb to the winning post, he first drifted right towards the stands’ side and then left towards his rival but, in the last hundred yards or so, Desert Orchid forged ahead to win by 1½ lengths, with Sherwood punching the air in celebration.

Who is Paul Nicholls?

Formerly stable jockey to David Barons, for whom he won the Hennessy Gold Cup, now the Ladbrokes Trophy, on Broadheath in 1986 and Playschool in 1987, Paul Nicholls retired from the saddle in 1989 with 133 winners to his name. He subsequently spent two years as assistant trainer to Barons before starting out on his own, at Manor Farm in Ditcheat, Somerset, with just a handful of horses, in 1991. He gradually increased his winning tally, season by season, but first came to public attention in 1998/99, when he saddled 110 winners and won £1.19 million in prize money.

Indeed, at the Cheltenham Festival in 1999, Nicholls became the leading trainer for the first time, courtesy of victories for Flagship Uberalles in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Call Equiname in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and See More Business in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In an era dominated by Martin Pipe, Nicholls regularly played ‘second fiddle’ to the Master of Pond House in the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship; it was not until 2005/06 season, at the end of which Pipe retired, due to ill health, that he claimed the trainers’ title for the first time.

However, Nicholls has gone on to win the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship eleven times in total, most recently in 2018/19, and has handled some of the out-and-out superstars of National Hunt racing. He has saddled 46 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, where he is, jointly, the leading trainer in the history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, the Stayers’ Hurdle four times – with the same horse, Big Buck’s, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and the Champion Hurdle once.

Who is Aidan O’Brien?

Born on October 16, 1969 in County Wexford, Ireland, Aidan O’Brien has, since 1996, has been private trainer to Irish business magnate John Magnier at Ballydoyle Racing Stable, County Tipperary. Magnier is married to Susan O’Brien, daughter of Vincent O’Brien, co-founder of the Coolmore Stud breeding operation in 1975.

Prior to succeeding Vincent O’Brien as ‘Master of Ballydoyle’, Aidan O’Brien had, like his unrelated namesake, been a highly successful National Hunt trainer. In fact, he won Irish National Hunt trainers’ championship in Ireland five seasons running between 1993/94 and 1997/98 and famously trained Istabraq to three consecutive wins in the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

By that stage of his career, O’Brien had already become the youngest-ever winner of the Irish Flat trainers’ championship, in 1997, and was well on his way to becoming the outstanding trainer of his generation. Indeed, he has been Irish champion trainer every year, bar one, since, and British champion trainer on six occasions, most recently in 2017.O’Brien is the leading trainer in the history of the 2,000 Guineas, with 10 wins, including three in a row between 2017 and 2019, courtesy of Churchill, Saxon Warrior and Magna Grecia. He is also, jointly, the leading trainer in the history of the Derby, with 7 wins, most recently with Anthony Van Dyck in 2019. In 2017, O’Brien trained 28 Group One or Grade One winners in a calendar year, thereby beating the previous record, 25, set by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003.

Who was Flyingbolt?

Trained by the late Thomas William ‘Tom’ Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan, County Dublin, Flyingbolt was a contemporary and stable companion of Arkle and, according to Timeform, had the distinction of being the second-highest rated steeplechaser since the mid-Sixties. Indeed, Arkle and Flyingbolt, with Timeform Annual Ratings of 212 and 210, respectively, stand head and shoulders above any other steeplechaser in the past five decades or so; Sprinter Sacre, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 2013 and 2016, comes in a remote third in the all-time list, with a rating of 192p.

Speaking of the Cheltenham Festival, Flyingbolt was successful at the March showpiece three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Arkle Challenge Trophy and Queen Mother Champion Chase, respectively. According to racing historian John Randall, in the latter race, Flyingbolt ‘triumphed with breathtaking ease by 15 lengths’. Such ease, in fact, that 24 hours later he reappeared in the Champion Hurdle, finishing a close, and arguably unlucky, third behind Salmon Spray.

Less than a month later, in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, Flyingbolt put up arguably his best performance ever. Shouldering the welter burden of 12st 7lb, he beat the useful mare Height O’Fashion, who was receiving 2st 12lb, by two lengths, with the reigning champion Splash, who was receiving 3st 0lb, further behind in third place. Reflecting on that stage of his career, jockey Pat Taaffe said of Flyingbolt, ‘It seemed only a matter a time until he took over from Arkle.’ Sadly, he never did; shortly afterwards he contracted a recurring disease, known as equine brucellosis, and never showed the same level of form again.

1 2 3 4