With just two weeks to go till the greatest show on Earth, here is a look at some recent superstars who most certainly earned their place within Cheltenham’s pantheon of greats, lighting up Prestbury Park on many occasions.
1. Kauto Star
One of the greatest chasers of all time. Paul Nicholls’ French-bred gelding was a chasing superstar who was effective at two miles all the way up to three miles, which in the chasing game is phenomenal. At a time where Nicholls ruled the roost in the steeple-chasing division, many look back at Kauto Star’s Gold Cup battles with stable companion Denman with great fondness.
Ridden by Ruby Walsh to two Cheltenham Gold Cup successes, King Kauto was an impressive winner of Racing’s 2007 Blue Riband event before taking revenge on 2008 conqueror Denman with a scintillating performance in the 2009 Gold Cup. A five-time King George winner to boot, Kauto Star was simply brilliant.
YouTube: Kauto Star’s 2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup win
2. Best Mate
A three-time Gold Cup winner from 2002-2004, Best Mate was the people’s horse who loved a battle. Trained superbly by Henrietta Knight to prime for the Blue Riband event three years running, Jim Culloty struck up a great rapport aboard the gelding who so memorably won his third Gold Cup, fending off the late rally of Sir Rembrandt in one of the Festival’s great races.
YouTube: 2004 Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase
3. Moscow Flyer
Jessica Harrington’s enigmatic two-mile chaser Moscow Flyer was a Cheltenham Festival favourite who raced at a time when the two-mile chasing division was full of some of the best names around. A four-length winner of the Arkle in 2002, Harrington’s charge returned to Prestbury Park in 2003 with a devastating performance in the Champion Chase to take the championship race by seven lengths under regular jockey Barry Geraghty.
However, Moscow Flyer was known for also clouting his fences and in the 2004 renewal of the Champion Chase, the son of Moscow Society took a crashing fall four fences from home when travelling extremely well, leaving Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh to take the crown with Azertyuiop.
Harrington’s charge was what National Hunt fans love however, a true fighter who returned to the 2005 Festival at the age of 11 to regain his Champion Chase crown with a gutsy defeat of Well Chief and 2004 conqueror Azertyuiop in a superb renewal of the Grade One.
YouTube: Moscow Flyer
4. Sprinter Sacre
No list would be complete without the indefatigable two-mile Champion Chase king Sprinter Sacre who after a decent start to life over hurdles, made his name over fences. Nicky Henderson’s charge was an outstanding winner of the 2012 Arkle, beating Cue Card in the process.
A year later, the son of Network returned to Prestbury Park and was a facile 19-length winner of the 2013 Champion Chase in one of the all-time sensational performances. However, after suffering heart fibrillations at Kempton Park later that year, many doubted whether Sprinter Sacre would ever reach the same heights over fences, highlighted by the gelding having to be pulled up in the 2015 renewal of the Champion Chase.
Yet in one of the most emotional victories ever to have occurred at the Cheltenham Festival, Sprinter Sacre roared back to his best at last year’s Festival staying on resolutely under Nico de Boinville to win the Champion Chase by three and a half-lengths in one of the greatest racing stories of all time.
Injury has forced his retirement but on his day, he was one of the best two-mile chasers we have ever seen.
YouTube: 2016 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre – Racing UK
Brilliantly trained by Aidan O’Brien, Istabraq was the finest hurdler of his generation, winning three Champion Hurdle’s under Charlie Swan.
A length winner of the Royal Sunalliance Novices’ Hurdle in 1997, O’Brien’s charge returned to Prestbury Park the next year as a lively Champion Hurdle contender and he duly obliged, slamming the field by twelve-lengths.
The son of Sadler’s Wells would win three consecutive Champion Hurdles following victories in the 1999 and 2000 renewals in which he fended off Hors La Loi III in the latter to announce himself as one of the greatest hurdles of all time.
YouTube: 2000 Smurfit Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Who has been your most favourite Cheltenham Champion in recent years? Let us know!