Cheltenham Gold Cup 2009

kauto starThe 81st running of this prestigious horserace featured something of a grudge match between the Paul Nicholls trained pair – Kauto Star, ridden by Ruby Walsh and Denman, last year’s Gold Cup champion ridden by Sam Thomas. Both 9 year old geldings were much fancied, but it was Kauto Star who was the bookies’ 7-4 favourite going into this 22 fence spectacle.

Denman Heart Problems

The Paul Barber-owned Denman was a 7-1 shot, despite winning the race just 12 months ago, but after some well-publicised heart problems that required surgery, was not seen as a particularly safe bet. Denman’s only race that season had been at Haydock and had not shown anything like the form that led him to Gold Cup success in 2008.

Early stages

Another of Paul Nicholls’ stable mates, Neptune Collonges lead the field for the majority of the race. However, the competition became more serious approaching the final turn as Denman and Kauto Star drew level with the Christian Williams mount and heading over the third fence from home, overtook him, looking full of energy.

Once he had hit the front, there was no stopping Ruby Walsh, who simply was not going to let anyone pass him, romping away to a 13 length victory over Denman in 2nd. In doing so, he had gained revenge for the reversal he suffered in 2008 and also had become the first ever to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup after having lost the crown.

Ruby Walsh Delight

Having looked like a different proposition to the pairing that came second so agonisingly in 2008. Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star looked confident throughout. He hadn’t felt totally confident despite the appearance, as he revealed after the race:

When Sam Thomas (on Denman) moved up alongside me, I didn’t know what was going to happen off the bend. But in all fairness to him he has picked up, winged the second-last and galloped all the way to the line”.
Walsh rated Kauto Star very highly:
He’s the greatest horse I’ve ever ridden. Two miles, three miles, now two Gold Cups. He’s magic, he’s a wonder horse.

Incredible Race for Trainer, Nicholls

Having had an amazing 1-2-3 in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, Paul Nicholls achieved a similar feat in 2009, training 4 of out of the first 5 horses across the line, with the only exception being Exotic Dancer, who came in third at 12-1 ridden by A.P. McCoy.

Owner, Clive Smith couldn’t believe his luck, as this was his second big win of the week, having already bagged the Champion Chase with Master Minded, adding:

I’m staggered. What a wonderful run. The best he’s ever run I think. I can’t believe it”.

The 2010 Decider?

Having experienced a year plagued with health problems, Denman had done well to place 2nd in this years race. With another good year behind him, we were perhaps looking at a decider next year between him and Kauto Star with the current standings at one Gold Cup win apiece.

No doubt, the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup would be every bit as exciting as this one. Denman or Kauto Star? Injuries and form allowing, it was going to be one hell of a rematch.

Continue Reading

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008

A memorable Paul Nicholls trained 1-2-3 in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup saw Denman partnered by Sam Thomas leave stablemate, last year’s champion and 10/11 favourite Kauto Star ridden by Ruby Walsh, a full 7 lengths behind to take the title and the quarter of a million pound winner’s prize at Prestbury Park on Friday 18th March.

Going, Good to Soft

A field of 12 runners stood waiting for the off and with the going reported as ‘Good to Soft’, this heavyweight clash between stablemates and the most fancied horses in the betting for this years Gold Cup was an eagerly awaited spectacle.

First Meeting

As both horses had never raced against each other, despite having arrived in adjoining horse boxes, debate about the eventual winner was merely conjecture. Some felt that the ‘nimbleness’ and guile of Kauto Star would prevail, whilst others that the sheer brutish power of Denman would leave his rival behind.

Both were fancied and the 65,000 packed into the grandstand were certainly in the mood for a great race.

Early Running

The third horse from the Paul Nicholls stable, Neptune Collonges, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald set the pace during the early part of the race, and would go on to make real fist of overtaking Kauto Star for the runners up spot, only missing out by a short head to Ruby Walsh’s mount.

It was 9-4 2nd favourite Denman however, that strode away in the latter stages and his trainer was full of praise for him after the race:

Denman was awesome. He jumped and galloped and put Kauto on the back foot really. The moment I first saw the horse with Paul Barber (joint-owner) we said ‘wow’

He had 3 reasons to celebrate after this race, talking proudly about the 2 runners up, also from the Paul Nicholls stable. He continued:

Neptune Collonges has been improving all the time and Kauto ran a good race too, but they were beaten on the day by a better horse. It was a great performance, good for the whole team. Just brilliant.”

This hotly anticipated race had been an exciting contest throughout, with the shear strength and smooth jumping of Denman winning out. The 80th running of this most prestigious race had witnessed another classic and it marked the end of another great festival meeting.

The feeling around the racecourse was jubilant and a number of punters interviewed after the last race simply said “roll on next year”.

We couldn’t agree more.

Continue Reading

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2007

kauto starAfter coming so close in 2006 to his first Cheltenham Blue Riband event win when he ran in 2nd on Hedgehunter, Ruby Walsh finally steered home his first Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph, Kauto Star, the pre race 5-4 favourite in 2007. The 7 year old, trained by Paul Nicholls ran in two and a half lengths in front of 2nd placed 9-2 2nd favourite, Exotic Dancer, ridden by Tony McCoy.

 

Prestbury Park Buzzing

As is customary at this most prestigious of race meetings, there was a large crowd and an ‘electric’ air anticipation in the air prior to the off. The decibel level was cranked up another notch as they got under way and in the early stages, as the 18 strong field headed down the first straight.

2nd Last

The mid part of the race saw the eventual winner tucked into the pack, making his move coming round the final bend. There were a few hearts in mouths as a loose horse, Idle Talk who had unseated rider Jason Maguire at the 5th fence, threatened to be cause problems, but he eventually made way, leaving the course clear for the front runners.

Kauto Star stormed into the lead over the 2nd last and had a straightforward run to the line afterwards to take the Gold Cup title and the £200,000 prize money.

The Betfair Million

The good news just kept on coming for owner Clive Smith, as having already won the King George VI chase and the Betfair chase earlier in the season, this third triumph netted a cool £1m bonus for completing the ‘Betfair Million’ treble.

Ruby Delight

Trainer Paul Nicholls was over the moon with his winning pair after the race, extolling their virtues of his champion horse and rider during a TV interview:

Ruby knew what he had to do and I just told him to go out there and do what he does best.
I told him to just have faith in him and that is what he did. It feels brilliant

Walsh was equally ecstatic, but was keen to point out how calm he had been when it mattered.
He was settled in the parade ring and during the race, so it was just a matter of when I pressed the button. I completely forgot about all the pressure during the race, despite everybody having an opinion on Kauto Star. This is the greatest race and he has won it easily.

The assembled Cheltenham race crowd had witnessed an impressive turn of pace from Kauto Star, with many predicting a bright future for the 7 year old french horse. Only time would tell if he could go on to emulate the greats, but this had been one heck of a win and one heck of a season for this wonderful gelding.

Continue Reading

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2006

War of Attrition from the Bernadette Murphy stable, ridden by Conor O’Dwyer was a promising 15-2 shot before the running of the 78th Totesport sponsored Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday March 16th 2006, and by the end of the race, he had fulfilled that promise by romping home strongly up the Cheltenham hill, just under 3 lengths ahead of runner up Hedgehunter, ridden by Ruby Walsh.

Irish Clean Sweep

After waiting almost a decade for Kicking King to become the first irish-trained mount to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2005, irish eyes were smiling again, as they saw their first ever 1-2-3 with the leading trio to cross the line all trained in Ireland by ‘Mouse’ Morris, Willie Mullins and Michael O’brien respectively.

After the running of Cheltenham’s Blue Riband event, winning trainer Mouse Morris waxed lyrical about his champion horse:

You dream about these things. I’ve always had a lot of faith in him. I have always said he is one of the best I have ever had and I think he’s proved that”.

Large Field

An unusually large 22-strong field started the race and was bunched together for a good portion of the running with english horse Lord of Illusion, ridden by Jason Maguire at front around the first circuit.

War of Attrition hit the front coming into the last long left-hand turn before the home straight, as he tried to stride away from the rest. Heading to the last fence, it looked like Ruby Walsh was getting up on Hedgehunter to mount a challenge. That was until he made a mistake forcing the 16-1 shot trained by Willie Mullins wide, losing ground in the process.

From there it was all War of Attrition as Conor O’Dwyer guided his horse home, showing his joy with clenched fists and a large beaming smile as he and his mount took the £228,080 winner’s prize.

Favourite Left Behind

Pre-race favourite, Beef or Salmon in is his 4th Gold Cup, trailed in 11th placed, as he never looked like winning this race, such was the ferocious sprint for home from War of Attrition.

It was the 2nd successive year that an Irish horse had taken the Gold Cup and the watching Prestbury crowd were as rowdy as ever.

After the tragedy of the death of legendary Best Mate late in 2005, the sport needed something to cheer about and they got just that with this enthralling contest.

 

Continue Reading

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2005

Friday the 17th March 2005 marked the 77th running of the wonder that is the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase and Prestbury Park was awash with a throng of excited punters. The going was good, there were 15 in the field and after the unfortunate withdrawal of hot favourite Best Mate due to a burst blood vessel, it was all to play for.

Would there be an Irish-trained winner of the Gold Cup for the first time in a almost a decade? One thing was for sure, it would be exciting finding out.

The Early Running

After the customary early jostling for position, it was Graham Lee’s mount, the fancied Grey Abbey that made all the running around the first circuit with 12-1 shot Ballycassidy ridden by Seamus Durack and Sir Rembrandt in close attendance.

Heading round the second lap, Andrew Thornton on Sir Rembrandt joined the Grey at the head of the race, as they both stretched the field. That scenario remained constant until the last 4 fences, when the leading two were caught by the great Irish hope, Kicking King who cruised into second with Barry Geraghty looking determined to snatch victory.

The Final Fences

4 out and the Tom Taaffe trained 4-1 favourite moved effortlessly into second before hitting the front at the third fence from home. He was momentarily challenged for the lead by Tony Dobbin on Take the Stand, but the 7 year old had too much in the tank and pace to burn, striding away to win by five lengths.

Ireland had a winner at long last, with the Cheltenham crowd euphoric cries echoing around the racecourse.

Speaking after the race, owner Conor Clarkson revealed how the victor almost didn’t make the race at all:

Two weeks ago, I thought we were out and I felt so lucky just to be here. When we thought he was out of the race, we were shattered”.

There had been concerns in the lead up to the race that the horse would have to withdraw due to illness, but he recovered just in time. And how lucky they were that he did, as he romped over the line to claim the £212,268.40 winner’s prize money and Gold Cup Champion 2005.

Trainer Tom Taaffe’s father was the jockey that rode the amazing Arkle to three successive gold cup victories in the 60s, but this time it was his son’s time to celebrate into the night.

Ireland had their winner and the punters went home happy, after witnessing a thrilling Totesport sponsored Cheltenham Gold Cup!

Continue Reading