Being asked to compile a list of the best Cheltenham Festival races ever is not difficult, it’s impossible!
Do you highlight some of the enormous gambles that have been landed down the years – such as Destriero in the 1991 Supreme Novice hurdle and Forgive n’ Forget, a horse best known for winning the Gold Cup in 1985, but he also landed an enormous gamble for Barney Curley & Co. when winning the 1983 Coral Golden Hurdle Final.
Or do you signpost the facile winners such as Unsinkable Boxer taking the 1998 Unicoin Homes Gold Card Handicap Hurdle Final (now the Pertemps Final) for Martin Pipe.
Nah, a great race must have more ingredients than just ‘gamble landed’ or ‘impressive winner’.
1.) Champ wins the RSA Novice Chase in 2020
Consequently we will start our list at the most recent Cheltenham Festival when Champ landed the RSA Novice Chase.
Slow at countless fences during the race, outpaced turning for home and eight lengths adrift jumping the last, Champ’s victory highlights all that’s great about the crucible which is Prestbury Park.
2.) Vintage McCoy on Wichita Lineman in 2009
In the same green and gold hoops of JP McManus jockey AP McCoy delivered one of the finest never-say-die Festival rides of all-time when winning the 2009 William Hill Trophy on Wichita Lineman.
This is a race you can watch a dozen times and you will still expect him to finish unplaced or even pulled-up on every occasion.
3.) Nice one Sirrell! Norton’s Coin wins Gold Cup at 100/1 in 1990
Norton’s Coin’s victory in the 1990 Gold Cup was a real fairy-tale. He may have been totally unconsidered at 100/1 but his rider, Graham McCourt rode him with confidence throughout and accounted for Toby Tobias and the great Desert Orchid on merit.
It is a result which still has form students scratching their heads but given he was an obscurely-bred horse owned and trained in Wales by dairy farmer Sirrell Griffiths, who had only two other horses in his stable, it was a great result for racing.
4.) Istabraq Imperious in Champion Hurdle in 2000
See You Then landed a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle wins in the 1980’s but Istabraq was more impressive when completing his third victory in the race in 2000.
Aidan O’Brien may now be known as the best flat trainer in the world, but it was this brilliant hurdler which helped put him on the map.
5.) Arkle vs Mill House – 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup
But there was one race which made the Festival the be-all-and-end-all of jumps racing that it is today.
The race which first drew fanatical Irish and English racegoers together for the very first time was the 1964 Gold Cup which saw Mill House and Arkle two racehorses, who were each considered unbeatable in their home country, meet face-to-face.
Arkle was to emerge as the greatest champion jumps racing has ever seen and returning to Ireland he became a national hero.