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Cheltenham Festival: Top five moments from history
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Enda McElhinney
Racing Post
Denman came out on top in the 2008 Gold Cup after pounding Kauto Star "into submission"
Denman came out on top in the 2008 Gold Cup after pounding Kauto Star "into submission"

- This year's Cheltenham Festival takes place from March 14-17 
- The Cheltenham Festival takes place at Prestbury Park in the heart of the Cotswolds 
- There is one championship race on each day, climaxing with the Gold Cup on Friday

The Cheltenham Festival has created a lifetime of stunning sporting moments, iconic wins and scenes that form the fabric of National Hunt racing's heritage.

With the 2023 Cheltenham Festival from Tuesday 14th March - Friday 17th March almost upon us, we look back at five of the most famous Cheltenham Festival moments from the past.

2008 Gold Cup: Denman pounds Kauto Star into submission

The run-up to the Gold Cup in 2008 was a real halcyon time for fans of National Hunt racing. 

Paul Nicholls was the top trainer around and, in his care, he had the two best staying chasers of the day — Kauto Star and Denman, who lived side-by-side in adjacent boxes at his Ditcheat yard.

Nicholls made no secret of the fact they would go head-to-head for the first time in the Gold Cup and their story captured the imagination like few racing narratives before or since — they were both front and back page news in the countdown to their Gold Cup duel.

Kauto Star was reigning champion and favourite but his stablemate produced an unmerciful display of front-running power to bludgeon the finishing burst of his great rival, Denman running out a convincing winner after pouring on the pressure for a full circuit of Cheltenham.

His win prompted the famous line from commentator Richard Hoiles that Denman: "relentless, remorseless - had pounded Kauto Star into submission."

It has to be said, 12 months later, the brilliant Kauto Star made history in reversing the placings as he became the first and only horse so far to win a Gold Cup, lose one and then win it back again.

1986 Gold Cup: Dawn Run makes Festival history

Just one horse in the history of the Cheltenham Festival has won the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup — the mighty mare Dawn Run.

Trained by Paddy Mullins, father of modern-day doyen Willie, she won the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and was back just two years later going for glory in the Gold Cup itself.

She had run only four times over fences by that stage and the last of them, at Cheltenham in January, ended in ignominy as jockey Tony Mullins was thrown off — an outcome that led to Jonjo O'Neill replacing him in the saddle for the Gold Cup.

It was a stellar renewal, with defending champion Forgive 'N Forget and three-time King George scorer Wayward Lad in the mix. 

That duo were right on the scene as they jumped the last but Dawn Run was closing up the famous hill and the crowd went into raptures as legendary commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan exclaimed: "The mare's beginning to get up" just as Dawn Run hit the front for a famous and still unmatched success.

2004 Gold Cup: Best Mate completes Gold Cup treble

No horse had won back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups since Arkle between 1964 and 1966 — and the feat has not been repeated since - so it was quite some effort when Best Mate did it in 2004 for Henrietta Knight and Jim Culloty.

Given his successes on the track, Best Mate was hugely popular with punters and race fans alike and so all eyes were on the favourite in his quest for a Blue Riband hat-trick.

Harbour Pilot and French raider First Gold were leading the race but Culloty pulled wide from the front pair and arrowed over the penultimate fence to the delight of the grandstands and, while the likes of Sir Rembrandt and Beef Or Salmon tried to come after him, they chased in vain as Best Mate wrote his chapter in Festival history.

2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase: Sprinter Sacre rises from the ashes

Sprinter Sacre's win in the 2016 Champion Chase was Nicky Henderson's best day in racing
Sprinter Sacre's win in the 2016 Champion Chase was Nicky Henderson's best day in racing

There is nothing to beat a heavyweight champion that has been written off in all corners rising from the canvas to deliver one last knockout blow. 

That is what Sprinter Sacre did in the 2016 Champion Chase.

Having won at all three of the major spring festivals — at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in 2013 — Sprinter Sacre was the best two-miler of his era and 10-10 over fences but he was pulled up at Kempton in December on seasonal bow. 

He was diagnosed with a heart condition, then written off when he returned a year later only to be beaten by Dodging Bullets at Ascot.

He was, they said, a shadow of himself. 

Two more defeats followed that season before 'The Black Aeroplane' got back to winning ways in the winter of 2015.

He was still expected to prove no match for Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase but he hit the front at the second last and fended off the favourite in the hands of Nico de Boinville.

With more than four decades as a license holder, it is quite something that Nicky Henderson has acknowledged his best day in racing was when Sprinter Sacre won the Champion Chase in 2016. 

It was truly spine-tingling — as only Cheltenham can be.

2016 Champion Hurdle - Annie Power's redemption

This is subjective stuff and there are, of course, a litany of other moments that could be chosen — but Annie Power's Champion Hurdle win in 2016 was special for so many reasons.

Epatante and Honeysuckle have matched her since, but on this afternoon, no mare in 32 years had won the two-mile Championship contest since Dawn Run.

More tellingly even than that, the Cheltenham Festival was a place with dark ghosts for Annie Power and Ruby Walsh. 

They were beaten favourites in the Stayers' Hurdle in 2014 and, infamously, final flight casualties in the Mares' Hurdle a year later in one of the Festival's most agonising moments.

For horse and rider, there was a score to settle with the Prestbury Park turf.

So it was that when she motored up the hill clear of My Tent Or Yours to win this race, the Cheltenham Festival's all-time leading rider punched the air with a delight not often seen as Annie Power and Walsh laid to rest the ghosts of Cheltenham-past.


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