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.