The best Gold Cup ever? Maybe not, but the performance of Long Run in defeating previous winners Denman and Kauto Star will live long in the memory for anyone who watched the contest.
George Selwyn’s superb cover image shows the three champions jumping the last fence in the order in which they finished, in front of the packed Cheltenham stands.
Robert Waley-Cohen’s brilliant young chaser has the opportunity to dominate National Hunt racing for years, yet before we get completely carried away with this handsome French-bred, it is worth recalling the last six-year-old who triumphed in jumping’s blue riband.
After Mill House romped away with the 1963 Gold Cup, it would have seemed folly to suggest that he would never again scale the same heights such was his superiority over the opposition. Yet the next year, he bumped into a horse trained in Ireland, named Arkle. The rest, as they say, is history.
Therein lies the beauty of this sport; things are rarely as straightforward as they appear and Long Run, for all his class and undoubted potential, is sure to find plenty of worthwhile opponents in the coming seasons.
Aintree may or may not be Long Run’s next destination but the meeting is definitely on the agenda for Silver By Nature.
The nine-year-old grey is trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell and will bid to become the first horse from that part of the world to win the Grand National since Rubstic triumphed in 1979.
Russell, who is based in Kinross, Tayside, is making a name for herself north of the border, having sent out plenty of winners over the last few seasons. She is assisted by her partner, Peter Scudamore, and is full of admiration for what the eight-time champion jump jockey has brought to her operation.
“We were quite happy, training horses well, then Scu came along; he has taken the operation to another level,” Russell tells Tim Richards. “Apart from the fact that he is my soul mate and helps with every part of my life, he has brought a wealth of experience with him. I wouldn’t have been able to cope by myself with the yard growing to the extent it has.”
While the jumps continues apace the Flat turf season is also now upon us; in Ireland it kicked off at the Curragh, with a Sunday card featuring a Group 3, a good class handicap (Irish Lincolnshire) and some interesting maidens featuring representatives from all the big stables.
Britain, meanwhile, celebrated the return of the Flat with a midweek card at Catterick. The first Pattern race on turf won’t be run until April 13 at Newmarket.
It’s a flat start to the Flat season and disappointing that more of an effort couldn’t have been made to get things going with a bang, rather than a whimper.
Richard Fahey clearly cannot wait to get his yard back up and running – he was one of just a handful of trainers from Britain to send a team of runners over to the Curragh for its opening fixture, although his early raid ultimately proved unsuccessful.
The Malton-based handler’s career is on an upward curve and having helped stable jockey Paul Hanagan take the riders’ championship last year, he now bids for a first Classic success with the unbeaten Wootton Bassett.
Fahey’s string now numbers 200 plus, one of the largest in the country, yet his ambition and drive would be able to sustain an even bigger intake.
“It’s never a good idea to take your foot off the gas,” he explains to Julian Muscat. “I’d like to train 400 horses; it would mean I’d have a chance of winning every race. “This game is about numbers. If they dry up, you’re finished.”