Racing: Best Mate ready to join history's famous five

History is not on the side of the two best-fancied horses in the Gold Cup. Best Mate, the favourite, will be trying to break a 32-year hoodoo and become the first since L'Escargot to defend his crown successfully. The last novice, as is the second favourite Beef Or Salmon, to win was Captain Christy in 1974.

There are other statistics to make Best Mate's task seem formidable. Since L'Escargot, only five winners – The Dikler, Forgive'N'Forget, Charter Party, Desert Orchid and Jodami – have managed even a place the following year. And in the 74 Gold Cups since Red Splash started it all in 1924 only five horses have won two or more. Before L'Escargot there was Easter Hero (1929-30), the best chaser of the interwar period; five-time hero Golden Miller (1932-36); the top-class speedster Cottage Rake (1949-50); and the best there has ever been, Arkle (1964-66).

Given that Best Mate was rated a relatively ordinary 173 in Gold Cup terms (the range has been from Master Smudge's 150 to Arkle's 212) by Timeform last year, there is no guaranteed reason why he should succeed again where better animals (Desert Orchid, the best chaser since Arkle, was on 187) failed.

But just by turning up on Thursday in good form, the pride of Henrietta Knight's West Lockinge stables will have achieved more than most defending champions, and with the King George VI Chase under his handsome girth he has most certainly not deteriorated. He knows nothing of what we make of him, though, and in the end statistics do not beat horses, other horses do. When Jodami finished second in 1994, he exhibited the same level of ability that had secured him victory the previous year. And although Best Mate is a more complete athlete than a year ago, if this year's rivals are a better vintage than in 2002, it may not be enough.

Beef Or Salmon is the flagbearer for the newest generation. Before brilliant Captain Christy, the only first-season chasers to take the senior title were Red Splash, Golden Miller (1932) and Mont Tremblant (1952). Since Captain Christy, 17 have essayed but only one has reached the placings, and that was Beef Or Salmon's Michael Hourigan-trained stablemate Dorans Pride six years ago.

The second-season brigade is headed by Hussard Collonges, winner of last year's Royal & SunAlliance Chase with a powerful display of jumping and galloping but given little credit at the time.

The pride of the veterans is See More Business, the 1999 winner. No horse has ever regained his crown, but the evergreen 13-year-old's third place last year has been bettered only by Linwell, runner-up two years after his 1957 victory.

Best Mate, with his high cruising speed, superb jumping technique and ability to quicken, can overturn the pages of history as well as his rivals in the 75th renewal of the blue riband. Hussard Collonges is taken to follow him home, with Cyfor Malta the best of the outsiders.

In contrast with the Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle seems easier to win again, with five triple and seven double champions. It is also a happier hunting ground for novices, with nine successes, three in the past 10 years.

Hors La Loi has not yet shown himself good enough to follow up last year's sadly gifted victory, but Rhinestone Cowboy, the brilliant youngster, is favourite to follow on Tuesday in the hoofprints of Royal Gait, Alderbrook and Make A Stand. It will be the first serious venture against his seniors for Jonjo O'Neill's charge and, like Beef Or Salmon, he may find the crucible too hot.

Provided ease remains in the ground, the answer lies with a bearer of the colours of another of Ireland's major players, J P McManus. Like-A-Butterfly, winner of the Supreme Novices' 12 months ago and doughty conqueror of Limestone Lad this term, can become only the fourth mare to win, after African Sister (1939), Dawn Run (1984) and Flakey Dove (1994).

Wednesday's highlight, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, should provide an epic spectacle, spiced by the presence of Florida Pearl. The past two winners, Flagship Uberalles and Edredon Bleu, are scheduled to take part, but the baton looks set to be passed to Moscow Flyer, last season's two-mile novice champion.

The Jessica Harrington-trained nine-year-old is unbeaten in his nine completed chases, and although he suffered an upset when unseating through no fault of his own in the Tingle Creek Chase, he has had two victories since then. Tiutchev can mount the sternest home defence.

The fourth of the senior championships, the Stayers' Hurdle on Thursday, can at last bring the Cheltenham fairytale for Ireland's folk hero Limestone Lad.

Sue Montgomery's Selections

Tuesday
2.0 Back In Front
2.35 Farmer Jack
3.15 Like-A-Butterfly
4.0 Ad Hoc
4.40 Spinofski
5.20 Iris's Gift

Wednesday
2.0 Pizarro
2.35 It Takes Time
3.15 Moscow Flyer
4.0 Tucacas
4.35 Stormez
5.10 Go Roger Go
5.45 Royal Alphabet

Thursday
2.0 Well Chief
2.35 Limestone Lad
3.15 Best Mate
4.00 Dorans Pride
4.35 Got One Too
5.10 La Landiere
5.45 Never

Sue Montgomery tipped the first five winners at Fontwell last Sunday for a 286-1 accumlator.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before