2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup was the most competitive renewal of the prestigious steeplechase for many a year, with the winners from the three previous years, Imperial Commander, Kauto Star and Denman once again in opposition. That trio, though, were only second, third and fourth choice in the betting market, behind favourite Long Run, who arrived at Prestbury Park fresh from a comfortable 12-length victory over stable companion Riverside Theatre in the rearranged King George VI Chase at Kempton two months earlier.

Still only a six-year-old, Long Run was ridden by accomplished amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, as he had been when beaten, but not disgraced, in the RSA Chase on his first attempt at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010. On that occasion he had made series of mistakes and his jumping was, once again, less than foot-perfect in what was, far and away, his toughest test to date.

From the fourth-last fence, soon after the turn at the top of the hill, Imperial Commander blundered and soon weakened out of contention, leaving Kauto Star and Denman to make the best of their way home. The two former winners were involved in a protracted duel from the home turn, but on the approach to the final fence it became clear that Long Run had the measure of both of them. On the long, stamina-sapping climb to the winning line, the ‘young pretender’ quickly put daylight between himself an his rivals, passing the post 7 lengths ahead of Denman, with Kauto Star a fading third, 4 lengths further behind.

Victory for Long Run was a first in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Nicky Henderson and the first for a six-year-old since Mill House – who was, at the time, widely considered the best steeplechaser since Golden Miller in the Thirties – in 1963.Winning jockey Sam Waley-Cohen became the first amateur jockey since Jim Wilson on Little Owl, in 1981, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup

With their head-to-head score tied at one apiece, the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup was billed as the latest rematch between Kauto Star and Denman, who had won the last three renewals of the ‘Blue Riband’ event between them. Although in different ownership the two main protagonists were saddled by reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls and, unsurprisingly, were sent off 8/11 favourite and 4/1 favourite, respectively. Third choice in the betting market, at 7/1, was Imperial Commander, who had been involved in a sustained duel with Kauto Star when beaten by the minimum margin in the Betfair Chase at Haydock the previous November, but had finished 64 lengths behind the same horse in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, after failing to recover from a mistake at the second fence.

By contrast, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it was the reigning champion, Kauto Star, who suffered from jumping frailties. What jockey Ruby Walsh described as ‘a bad mistake’ before halfway knocked Kauto Star out of position and thereafter he was always fighting a losing battle, finally parting company with Walsh at the infamous fourth-last fence on the New Course when struggling in fifth place. Stable companion Denman, ridden by A.P. McCoy, raced prominently throughout and was still in the lead on the approach to second-last fence. However, even ‘The Tank’, as Denman was affectionately known, had no answer when tackled by Imperial Commander at the penultimate obstacle.

Ridden by Paddy Brennan, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained nine-year-old was driven clear in the closing stages to win by 7 lengths, going away from his nearest pursuer, Denman, who finished tired, but remained well clear of the third horse. Mon Mome, winner of the Grand National in 2009, was tailed off at one stage, but made relentless progress from the second-last fence to snatch the minor placing in the dying strides at odds of 50/1.

Tiger Roll

Of course, Tiger Roll became a household name when, in April, 2019, he became the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, in 1974, to record back-to-back victories in the Grand National. However, even before his first attempt in the Aintree marathon in 2018, Tiger Roll had made a name for himself at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2014, he won the Grade One Triumph Hurdle over 2 miles and 79 yards on the New Course at Prestbury Park, in 2016, after being switched to steeplechasing, he won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over 3 miles 7 furlongs and 147 yards on the Old Course and, in 2018, he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase over 3 miles 6 furlongs on the Cross Country Course. In 2019, Tiger Roll confirmed himself as a true Cheltenham Festival ‘legend’ when making light of a 9lb rise in the weights to win the same race again, by 22 lengths from the 2016 winner, Josies Orders.

Interestingly, Tiger Roll was originally owned by Sheikh Mohammed, but has only ever contested one Flat race – a 2-mile maiden race at Dundalk, in which he finished second – and, even then, only as a six-year-old, in 2016, by which time he had long been in the care of his current trainer, Gordon Elliot. He was bought by Michael O’Leary, the owner of Gigginstown House Stud, after making a winning debut for his previous trainer, Nigel Hawke, and was sent to Elliott as a likely contender for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll exceeded expectations by not only contesting, but winning, the Triumph Hurdle on just his second start for his new connections.

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being ‘a little rat of a thing’, according to his owner – Tiger Roll is diminutive, especially for a steeplechaser, at fewer than 16 hands – after a spell in the doldrums, the Authorized gelding found fame over the larger obstacles and, at least so far, has never fallen. Admirable though Tiger Roll is, O’Leary is on the record as saying that he is very unlikely to attempt to emulate Red Rum by running in the Grand National again in 2020. His ‘swansong’ may well be the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, once again, in which victory would be his fifth at the Cheltenham Festival.

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