Cheltenham Festival 2019: David Elsworth remembers Desert Orchid and the day he won the Gold Cup
It was no hurricane that caused this aerial titfer display, but a force of nature loved like no other by racing fans of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
It was Desert Orchid.
Dear old Dessie had already won two King Georges when he arrived at a rain-drenched Cheltenham on Gold Cup day 30 years ago.
With his handsome grey coat and spectacular front-running style he had been taken to the hearts of thousands of racing enthusiasts. He even had his own fan club.
His many supporters had backed him down to 5-2 favourite by off time but this was not Dessie’s track.
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He’d been fancied for Champion Hurdles and Champion Chases but never seemed to be able to produce his sparkling best in the Cotswolds.
The heavy ground – unraceable until standing water was pumped from the track – would also blunt Dessie’s speed.
Although he had won the Whitbread Gold Cup over 3m5f the previous year this was a horse fast enough to give lumps of weight to top two-miler Panto Prince in the Victor Chandler Chase — one of the most thrilling races ever run — at Ascot just two months before the Festival.
Those concerns proved un-founded as he roared up the hill under jockey Simon Sherwood — the pair spattered in mud — to beat outsider Yahoo on the run-in.
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Trainer David Elsworth recalled: “The ground was desperate as there had been snow. They said there was an inspection which I only heard about driving through Cirencester.
“When I got there I daren’t walk on the track but if they were going to race there was no one better equipped there to deal with the conditions than Desert Orchid.
He jumped like a stag and settled in front. He would run on anything.
“The horse had never been better. He was stronger than them all that day, he was so much better than the others.
“I hate to admit it but it wasn’t a great Gold Cup. If someone like Denman was in it he would have won. Though the race wasn’t the greatest it was one of the most exciting.”
The excitement couldn’t get to Elsworth too much. He certainly couldn’t join in the hat-tossing celebrations having stood alone to watch the race on a telly in the reception to the Royal Box.
He said: “I stood there in solitude and had the area to myself. I couldn’t have got a better spot.
“They took him on down the back but he had the legs for them. I feel sorry for Ten Plus but when he fell at the third-last we were in the air together.