The ancient Greeks believed that the greatest honour that could be won by a fighter or an athlete was to die at the very moment of greatest victory. Best Mate, the 10-year-old champion racehorse, may not have breathed his last while trotting up the hill after winning a fourth Cheltenham Gold Cup race. That would have been too perfect. But it was a highly poetic end nevertheless.
The finest chaser since Desert Orchid in the 1980s - and arguably since Arkle in the 1960s - suffered a heart attack on the Exeter racecourse yesterday. The three-time consecutive Gold Cup winner was pulled up by his jockey, Paul Carberry, in a state of distress. His Trainer Henrietta Knight was quickly on the scene.
While being brought back to the stables those famous legs - which had never collapsed after a jump in the heat of competition - finally gave way. And they did not rise again.
The tributes galloped in yesterday from those whose lives had been touched by this extraordinary racehorse. Edward Gillespie, managing director of Cheltenham racecourse summed up the feeling best: "Somehow it is different because Best Mate attracted so many people to pay attention to the sport who would otherwise not even look at the racing pages."
So like General James Wolfe, cut down at Quebec during the Seven Years War, like Sir John Moore at Corunna, like Admiral Nelson whose life drained away 200 years ago while lying on the boards of his beloved Victory, Best Mate died doing what he was born to do. There must surely be some honour in that.Reuse content