The Cheltenham Festival as we know it goes back almost a hundred years. Here are three of the most memorable moments at Prestbury Park, both equine and human:
No discussion on the greatest success stories at the Cheltenham Festival would be complete without the unique achievement of trainer Michael Dickinson back in the Gold Cup of 1983.
From his base at Dunkeswick near Harewood in Yorkshire Dickinson entered the Guinness Book Of Records the previous year when saddling a record 12 winners in one day. But that paled into insignificance compared to when Bregawn and jockey Graham Bradley led home his four stablemates Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House to ensure a clean sweep of the greatest prize in steeplechasing, a feat that is unlikely ever to be repeated.
The 1985 Champion Hurdle had an element of a Dick Francis novel about it in that the race was expected to be won by the red hot favourite Brown’s Gazette and amateur jockey Dermot Browne who had carried all before them that season, winning the Fighting Fifth and Bula before thrashing Desert Orchid and See You Then in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle by fifteen lengths and ten lengths.
Sent off 4-6 for the Champion Hurdle, Browne’s Gazette swerved violently left as the tape rose, forfeiting almost twenty lengths, impossible to recover from in a race run at a record pace. Trainer Monica Dickinson’s comment after the race about Browne, who was later revealed as a confessed doper, was that “ he was caught napping.” Whether this amounted to an error of judgement or something more sinister we are never likely to know! The winner in 1985 – See You Then – went on to become only one of a handful of horses to win the championship contest on three occasions.
The Cheltenham Festival has witnessed some amazing gambles over the years none more so than that of owner Noel Furlong and maiden winner Destriero in 1991.
Running in the colours of Furlong’s wife Betty ( who was also intended to be the trainer, but was refused a license, with Andy Geraghty taking over the official role) the plan was to win well in excess of a million pounds on the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle without the horse’s odds going through the floor. Despite huge liabilities bookmakers allowed the unproven Destriero to drift from 5-1 to 6-1, a huge mistake as the gelding romped home in front.
Having entered rank outsider The Illiad in the later Champion Hurdle, such were the potential liabilities faced by bookmakers should the second leg of the double come off (reputed to be in the tens of millions) that The Illiad instead of going off an unconsidered outsider started at just 11-2 before failing to beat one horse home behind the winner Morley Street.