Which Cheltenham Gold Cup winner started and ended his career by falling at Kempton?

Without wishing to give away too much too soon, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winning 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.

Who is Nicky Henderson?

Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Henderson is the son of the late Major John ‘Johnny’ Henderson, a founder of the Racecourse Holdings Trust and, as such, credited with helping safeguard the future of Cheltenham Racecourse in the Sixties. The name of Nicky Henderson, too, is synonymous with Cheltenham, predominantly the Cheltenham Festival, where he has saddled 68 winners, making him the second most successful trainer in history, behind only perennial Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins.

Indeed, Henderson is the leading trainer in the history of both the Champion Hurdle, which he has won eight times and, jointly, alongside Tom Dreaper and Paul Nicholls, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he has won six times. He has also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice apiece.

Henderson has also won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship six times including, most recently, in 2019/20. The National Hunt season was brought to a premature end on March 25, as the result of the coronavirus pandemic but, at its close, Henderson had saddled 118 winners, including 15 at Graded level and, more importantly, amassed £2.53 million in total prize money; his seasonal total was £192,550 higher than his nearest rival, reigning Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls.

Henderson, who turns 70 in December, 2020, began his training career as assistant to eight-time Champion Trainer Fred Winter in 1974, before taking out a training licence in his own right four years later. He is currently based at Seven Barrows in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire, the yard to which he moved in 1992.

Which is the oldest race run at the Cheltenham Festival?

Of the main ‘championship’ races run at the Cheltenham Festival, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which was established in 1924, three years before the Champion Hurdle, is the oldest. However, the oldest race still run at the Cheltenham Festival is the Grand Annual Chase; since 2005, has borne the name of John ‘Johnny’ Henderson, late father of trainer Nicky Henderson, who, as founder of Racecourse Holdings Trust, is credited with securing the future of Cheltenham Racecourse in the Sixties.

Nowadays, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase is a prestigious Grade 3 handicap steeplechase, run over 2 miles and 62 yards on the New Course at Prestbury Park and open to horses aged five years and upwards. The Grand Annual Chase has been a fixture of the Cheltenham Festival since 1913, but the inaugural running actually took place nearly seven decades earlier, ‘in the neighbourhood of Andoversford’, which lies approximately six miles east of Cheltenham, in 1834. The initial contest was an eventful affair, eventually won by Fugleman, owned and ridden by Mr. R. D’Oyley. The Grand Annual Chase was discontinued in the latter part of the nineteenth century and, in the early twentieth century, staged at various other venues before returning, permanently, to Cheltenham.

Which was Willie Mullins’ first Cheltenham Festival winner?

Willie Mullins, who has won the Irish National Hunt Trainers’ Championship every season since 2008/09, has also been no stranger to the winners’ enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years. Indeed, the County Carlow handler is the most successful trainer in the history of the March showpiece meeting, with 72 winners, and has been crowned leading trainer seven times.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a notable omission from Mullins’ CV but, of the other three main ‘championship’ races, he has won the Champion Hurdle four times, the Stayers’ Hurdle twice and, after finishing runner-up six times, the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, courtesy of Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020. Everyone needs to start somewhere, of course, and in Willie Mulllins’ case his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival was Tourist Attraction in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1995. Ridden by Mark Dwyer, the 25/1 chance led on the run-in and stayed on well to beat Ventana Canyon, trained by Edward O’Grady and ridden by Charlie Swan, by two lengths.

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