Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Top 10 Greatest National Hunt Horses Of All Time

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With the National Hunt season in full flow and little over a month until Cheltenham, we thought now would be the perfect time reminisce about stars and legends of the turf of yesteryear.

Whether it was taking down the Cheltenham Gold Cup or roaring to a Grand National victory, or perhaps even both, here’s to the finest thoroughbreds ever to grace the turf of UK National Hunt racing.

We salute you.

Here, then, are the top 10 National Hunt horses of all time.

Golden Miller

What can you say about a horse that won five Cheltenham Gold Cups in a row?

It’s an achievement that hasn’t been bettered or even equalled before or since.

Not content with setting that record, the Dorothy Paget owned star also won the Grand National in 1934 when he set a new course record.

His epic run of form in the Gold Cup came between 1932 and 1936, meaning that he won the Grand National and the Gold Cup in the same season, an achievement only Golden Miller can boast.

While most of us are too young to remember this bay coloured Irish gelding, his achievements, not least scooping the United Kingdom’s duel premier steeplechase races in the same season, are the stuff of legend.

Desert Orchid

Dessie was a celebrity in a way that no other horse before or after has ever been or perhaps ever will be.

He, unlike all others, transcended his sport.

Desert Orchid was an equine superstar and caught the public’s imagination like no other racehorse.

He was popular because he was plucky and liked to attack the field.

Dessie’s silky grey coat made him easy on the eye and the nature of his style – and boy did he have style – was thrilling to watch.

He had an elegant attacking style too, that pulled in an audience that otherwise might not watch the racing.

In terms of titles, Dessie picked up most of the major events he could have wished for, including a Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1989, but he was most celebrated for winning the King George VI Chase on four separate occasions between 1986 and 1990.

One of the finest ever to grace a steeplechase.

Istabraq

Had it not been for a foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 leading to the cancellation of that year’s Cheltenham Festival, it is very likely that Istabraq would have celebrated a fourth Champion Hurdle in a row.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and he had to settle for three.

Istabraq was an incredibly popular horse, largely because he was a fighter, and everyone loves a fighter don’t they?

He also possessed and incredible turn of speed which he knew how to turn on at the crucial moment.

After burners fully on, not many obstacles could worry this horse which is probably why – in the same way that Tiger Roll was denied another shot at Aintree to equal Red Rum’s record (see below) –  it took a national emergency to stop this horse jumping to even greater successes.

Even so, he still holds records others could only dream of.

Dawn Run

The most successful mare in the history of National Hunt racing, Dawn Run was the only horse to complete the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup double, an incredible feat considering the races are just so different, requiring vastly different attributes.

When Dawn Run won the Gold Cup in 1986 she set a record time.

The festival – and the whole of Ireland – erupted as crowds invaded the winners’ enclosure causing complete pandemonium.

In modern times, only the mare Annie Power comes close.

It can be argued that her roll of honour is not as decorated as others listed here, but for a mare to make such glorious history at the world’s toughest racing fest is an achievement that none have ever equalled and not many ever will do.

Arkle

So successful was Arkle that, today, there is a prominent race named after him.

Cheltenham’s Grade One Arkle Challenge Trophy pays tribute to this magnificent bay gelding.

Arkle won lots of races, 27 out of 34 in fact, but his most famous achievement was to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row.

This magnificent champion also took down the Leopardstown Chase three years in succession too.

This might explain why this horse used to receive sackfuls and sackfuls of fan mail that were addressed simply to The Champion or even more simply, to Himself.

In his illustrious career on the turf, he also won the King George VI and two Hennessy Gold Cups.

In 1965, Arkle was pretty much unbeatable and, were it not for a freak injury a year later, his career might have been even longer and even better.

Even so, Arkle is still widely considered the best National Hunt horse there ever has been

So good, in fact, that a whole new handicapping system was introduced to counter his dominance.

Red Rum

Legendary Red Rum is the only horse ever to have won the Aintree Grand National on three separate occasions.

And to think, he only cost an original 400 guineas at purchase!

Red Rum won the first of those three famous victories way back in 1973, in what is largely agreed to be one of the greatest races of all time.

Of course, he would go on to win it again the following year before posting a sensational comeback victory in 1977 also.

Rummie just loved to run and had a real feel for the Liverpool course.

Today, his remains are buried by the finishing post at Aintree Racecourse, a fitting memorial for an equine legend.

Kauto Star

Kauto Star was the first ever horse to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, lose the Cheltenham Gold Cup and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup back again.

He was a French bred National Hunt champion racehorse trained by Paul Nicholls who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, in 2007 and 2009.

With a National Hunt CV that really is second to none, Kauto Star is a legendary horse and one of the more recent history makers on this list.

But that’s not all. Between 2006 and 2011, this bay gelding also claimed five King George Vi Chases, winning the 2009 renewal by a staggering – and record breaking – 36 lengths.

His 30 starts in the United Kingdom brought about 19 wins and includes two Tingle Creek’s, four Lancashire Chase’s, five King George’s and two Cheltenham Gold Cup’s.

The versatility required to win the tightest, fastest of chases over two miles at Sandown, and also grinding out testing win over three plus Cheltenham miles, is one that is simply not possessed by mere mortal horses, but Kauto Star had it in spades.

Best Mate

In 22 races, never did Best Mate finish outside of the top two and never did Best Mate trip up over a hurdle.

He won 14 times, five at Grade One level, and was placed second seven times.

Best Mate won the esteemed Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row and in doing so became the only horse since Arkle to do so.

There is a reason repetitive wins in the greatest race in National Hunt Racing are uncommon, because it’s a ridiculously tough achievement.

Yet, Best Mate is one of only two to have ever have done so and for that he deserves is place in my best National Hunt horses.

The reason this wonderful horse was so successful was he was full of sheer guts and determination and was a battler.

The saddest part of the Best Mate story was that the only occasion that he failed to complete a race was in his last race when he pulled up with a heart attack at Exeter and died on the racecourse.

It was sad demise for a horse that had done so much for the sport and given racing fans so many happy memories.

As you would expect, such a well loved horse’s tragic end made the following day’s national papers’ front pages.

L’Escargot

Much loved chestnut L’Escargot, is another horse on the list that, in a glittering career, won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup as well as the Grand National.

He was originally supposed to be called Let’s Go but with that name already being taken, it was switched at the last minute to the French word for snail.

But there was nothing slow about this champion.

To many, L’Escargot will forever be the winner of the 1975 Grand National, famously beating Red Rum as he did so.

But he had also come third and second in the previous two renewals as well as taking down the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971.

In 1977, he was inducted into the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

Sprinter Sacre

French bred Sprinter Sacre really came into his own when he switched from hurdles to fences.

He was only tested over hurdles four times, never finishing outside the top three and winning on half of these occasions.

No other horse came close to him when he was at his best, particularly in those stunning first two seasons over fences in which he won the Arkle and followed that up a year later by winning the Champion Chase by a whopping 19 lengths.

In fact, so hot was he in 2013, he became the first horse since Istabraq to win at all three major spring jumping Festivals, Punchestown, Cheltenham and Aintree.

In 2014, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after which he was never quite the same, but he had burned so brightly in his early years that he makes this list, especially given that he suffered from the condition he did.

This truly remarkable thoroughbred is today enjoying his retirement in the leafy Cotswolds.

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