Cheltenham Memories: Stunning Champion Chases

‘There have been many encounters at the Cheltenham Festival which will live long in the memory. From the days of Arkle, Desert Orchid and to Kauto Star, there have been horses and clashes that will stand the test of time. Ed Quigley goes on a trip down memory lane selecting some of his favourite races and moments throughout the years, and some of the more dramatic and unusual moments. Sit back and enjoy reliving some great encounters here on, as you join us for the series of Cheltenham Memories.

Sprinter Sacre (2016)

At his peak, an unstoppable machine and would feature very close to the top in most racing fans favourite moments from not just the Champion Chase, but the Cheltenham Festival as a whole.

A facile winner of the Arkle in 2012, and then a mind-blowingly good winner Champion Chase in 2013, it was all stop-start after that as he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, which at one point looked like bringing down the curtain to an illustrious career – but somewhat prematurely. However, as magically referred to by the commentator Simon Holt; the ‘impossible dream came true’ in 2016, as the comeback of all comebacks was complete as the 10-year-old rolled back the years in a performance which left no dry eyes in the house as he stormed up the Cheltenham Hill.

A horse who exhausted the catalogue of superlatives, and produced many moments in his career which were special. One of those, was at Prestbury Park in 2016, and it very much was one of the ‘I was there’ moments, and will never be forgotten.

Master Minded (2008)

A jaw-dropping moment. It was a 19-length demolition job, as the Paul Nicholls trained five-year-old didn’t come off the bridle to leave the reigning champion Voy Por Ustedes looking like an also-ran.

He went on to win again a year later, but it really was this race in 2008 which set the bar to heights that were more or less impossible to match for the rest of his career. The lasting memory from that race is a grinning Ruby Walsh coming home in second gear, giving the horse a pat and a stroke, as a sense of awe and disbelief at what we were witnessing rippled throughout the crowd.

Simon Holt’s commentary provided a perfect synopsis of what was happening on the turf: “Master Minded is making Voy Por Ustedes look ordinary – and he’s not ordinary!” A truly astonishing performance and right up in the upper-echelons of best ever Cheltenham Festival winners, and it is hard to believe it is 14 years ago!

Edredon Bleu (2000)

Runner-up the previous year, Edredon Bleu was sent off a 7/2 shot with an intrepid A.P.McCoy in the saddle.

On a bright and sunny spring day in Cheltenham, the eight-year-old led pillar to post in one of the most enthralling renewals of this race ever, as he had to fend off challengers on both flanks in the home straight when it looked as though it would be easier to throw in the towel. The pair would not surrender, and after a ding-dong battle with Direct Route, it was on the nod on the finish line – and it needed a photo finish to split them.

When the result of the photo was announced, it was to an epic cheer throughout the packed enclosures, as adulation resonated everywhere. A must-watch classic which still gets the pulse racing over 20 years later.

Altior (2019)

The winner from 2018, was sent off the 4/11f, but didn’t have everything his own way.

Ridden prominently, Nico De Boinville attempted to keep things uncomplicated, and it all looked to be plain sailing as he led the field turning into the home straight. However, he hadn’t burnt off his rivals, as jumping two out, he was flanked either side by Politologue, and the strong travelling Sceau Royal. Sceau Royal, patiently ridden under Daryl Jacob jumped better than Altior at the last and looked to have the momentum as they headed up the Cheltenham Hill. Politologue then started to quicken, and it was evident that Altior had a real scrap on his hands.

The final 100 yards summed up the horse – his blend of speed, stamina, bravery and will-to-win all came to the fore as he toughed it out to land the spoils, ultimately by almost 2 lengths. It was that slight air of in-running vulnerability which always made Altior an exciting horse to watch, and the 2019 renewal of the Champion Chase showcased exactly that.

Finian’s Rainbow (2012)

A race full of drama. In the early exchanges of the race, Wishfull Thinking crashed out at the fourth fence (which would be the final fence on second circuit), demolishing the rail, and taking out a photographer. The pandemonium left jockey Richard Johnson and the photographer on the ground in agony. Whilst medical staff and race officials rushed over to try and sort out the chaos, the race continued, with the 2011 Champion Chaser, Sizing Europe bowling along in front in the hands of Andrew Lynch, attempting to lead them a merry dance.

In truth, not much actually happened for the bulk of the race as Finian’s Rainbow and Big Zeb followed in single file. However, the carnage from Wishfull Thinking’s departure was still being sorted out, and racecourse officials hadn’t had time to really alert the race participants that the final fence could not be jumped, as Richard Johnson still lay on the ground on the other side of it as paramedics attended to him. One official managed to just about get in front of the fence in time to wave a flag to alert Barry Geraghty and Andrew Lynch to bypass it, but Lynch only seemed to react at the last minute, swerving around the fence bumping into Finian’s Rainbow in an equine edition of Stock car racing.

The two tussled up the Cheltenham Hill in thrilling fashion as Finian’s Rainbow just got the better of his stubborn rival in the last 75 yards. Incredible scenes.