2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured the defending champion, Bobs Worth, who was sent off 6/4 favourite, ahead of Silviniaco Conti, a seemingly unlucky loser in the 2015 renewal, at 11/4, and the remainder of the 13-strong field available at 15/2 or longer. The start of the race was dramatic enough, with the runners only sent on their way at the third time of asking, but the finish – and the subsequent, televised stewards’ enquiry – was even more so, not to mention deeply controversial in the eyes of some observers.

The market leaders filled the first two places jumping the final fence, but it was all change on the run-in as first Silviniaco Conti and then Bobs Worth – who was, apparently, distracted by a security guard in a yellow, high visibility jacket, causing him to become unbalanced – wandered on the flat. Having been completely outpaced in the early stages, Lord Windermere appeared to be in a hopeless position between the second-last and third-last fences, but made up ground hand over first thereafter and was on the heels of the leaders jumping the final fence. The eight-year-old continued his progress but, while he took the lead inside the final half-a-furlong or so he, too, hung left, carrying the placed horses, On His Own and The Giant Bolster, across the course towards the stands rail.

Lord Windermere, only seventh choice in the betting market at 20/1, passed the post with just a short head and three-quarters of a length in hand of On His Own and The Giant Bolster. A stewards’ enquiry ensued and, after 15 minutes’ deliberation, the result was allowed to stand, despite stewards’ secretary Paul Barton stating afterwards that, ‘There was interference, without a doubt…’ Consequently, winning trainer Jim Culloty – probably still best known as the jockey of Best Mate – became the latest of just five men to ride and saddle a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured eight runners but was, nevertheless, a ‘tight’ betting heat. Despite the prevailing soft going, about which trainer Nicky Henderson had previously expressed his concern, Bobs Worth was sent off 11/4 favourite, but was closely in the betting by stable companion Long Run, at 7/2, and Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs, both at 4/1. Bobs Worth had readily beaten Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant by 3¼ lengths and 5 lengths in the Hennessy Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury the previous December and looked a worthy favourite.

Indeed, the betting market proved to an accurate guide, because the market leaders – with the exception of Betfair Chase winner Silviniaco Conti, who fell at the third-last fence when still travelling well within himself – dominated the finish. King George VI Chase winner Long Run and Irish Hennessy Gold Cup winner Sir Des Champs led the field turning for home and, hampered by the departure of Silviniaco Conti, Bobs Worth was driven along and 8 lengths down on the run to the second-last fence.

However, galvanised by jockey Barry Geraghty, the favourite produced a strong run to lead between the final two fences and gamely forged clear in the final half-a-furlong or so to win by 7 lengths. Sir Des Champs rallied on the run-in, but could make no real impression on the winner in the closing stages, although he did enough to finish second, 2¾ lengths ahead of Long Run, who could also find no extra.

Of course, Bobs Worth was winning at the Cheltenham Festival for the third year running, having collected the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and the RSA Chase in 2012. Winning jockey Barry Geraghty praised Bobs Worth for his ‘great attitude’ and, on his retirement from racing three years later, winning trainer Nicky Henderson called him ‘an absolute legend’.

2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured the defending champion, Long Run, who was sent off 7/4 favourite, and two-time winner Kauto Star, by now a twelve-year-old and making what turned out to be his final racecourse appearance, who was sent off 3/1 second favourite. Kauto Star, though, ran no sort of race on his fourth and final attempt to win a third Gold Cup, weakening after a mistake at the eighth fence and being pulled up before halfway in the 3 mile 2½-furlong contest.

Long Run, on the other hand, made a bold bid to retain his title. Despite hitting the third-last and second-last fences, the seven-year-old was driven to challenge at the final obstacle and, although he could on keep on at one pace under pressure in the closing stages, finished an honourable third, beaten a total of just 3 lengths.

Victory went to the Lexus Chase winner, Synchronised, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by A.P. McCoy, at 8/1. O’Neill later admitted that, ‘Our big worry was keeping him in the race’ but, despite several jumping errors, the nine-year-old rallied from an unpromising position turning for home to emerge as a potent threat at the final fence. Under a vintage McCoy drive, Synchronised tackled the leader, The Giant Bolster, early on the run-in and kept on gamely to win by 2¼ lengths. The Giant Bolster, trained by David Bridgwater and ridden by Tom Scudamore, belied odds of 50/1 to finish a rallying second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Long Run.

Less than a month later, Synchronised attempted to become the first horse since the legendary Golden Miller, in 1934, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season. Sadly there was no fairytale ending; Synchronised initially fell at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit, but took another, fatal, fall at the eleventh fences when running loose.

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.

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