Without wishing to give away too much too soon, the horse in question made his racing debut in a novices’ hurdle at Kempton, on January 21, 1983. Having made the running, he crashed, exhausted at the final flight and took so long to get to his feet that it appeared, for a time, as if he might not do so. Thankfully, he did.
He went on to win 34 of his 70 starts over hurdles and fences and over £650,000 in prize money, but on his final start, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, 1991, again fell, when beaten, at the third-last fence. On that occasion, though, he was quickly back on his feet and received a heartwarming round of applause as he galloped, riderless, past the packed grandstands. Two seasons previously, he had enjoyed what was probably his finest hour, overcoming bottomless ground and racing left-handed – he was two stone better going left-handed, according to his regular jockey – to win the ‘Blue Riband’ event of steeplechasing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
You may well have guessed by now that the horse in question is Desert Orchid who, despite an inauspicious start and end to his career, not only won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but also the King George VI Chase, four times, the Irish Grand National and the Whitbread Gold Cup, to name but a few of his major successes. He was awarded a Timeform Annual Rating of 187, inferior only to such luminaries of National Hunt racing as Arkle, Flyingbolt, Sprinter Sacre, Kauto Star and Mill House.