Horse & Hound
With the great Gold Cups you remember where you watched from. With the historic Arkle/Mill House showdown in 1964 it was from the stands already changed to ride in the next. With Dawn Run it was down at the second last when only a mighty leap could keep her in the argument. With Best Mate’s treble day it was down by the last as he battled out of that last race pocket. With this one it was against the run-in rail beside the proudest man in the kingdom.
Clifford Baker is head man to the Paul Nicholls stable and on Friday was seeing his horses Denman and Kauto Star come to The Festival for the sixth successive year. What’s more, Kauto Star, the horse he rides every morning was competing for the fifth time in the Gold Cup which he had already won twice. When Clifford shouted “come on my boys” as Denman and Kauto Star locked strides for the lead round the final turn, it was a cry that came from the very centre of his being.
Through triumph and disaster he had watched and tended them every day of their training lives. Denman’s great run to the 2008 Gold Cup and then the heart tremor which looked like ending everything. Kauto’s top-of-the-tree brilliance bookended by a crashing fall at the third fence in the 2006 Champion Chase and the near neck-breaker at the 19th in the Gold Cup last year. Some had thought that this was one March too many. But here, as they thundered past us with a circuit to go, was rising proof that they were still contenders.
On the big screen Ruby and Kauto Star sailed into the lead with a series of leaps that banished the memories of last year’s catastrophe. Outside him Sam Thomas rumbled Denman so much into contention that soon Clifford was beginning to give little yelps of encouragement. On to the climax and a voice in crescendo.
“Come on my boys,” roared Clifford as those two so familiar heads bobbed in slugging synchronisation in the battle towards the last. It was the third time they had come round the Gold Cup turn together and 100 yards from this final fence there was still nothing between them. But history, in the white nose-banded shape of Long Run was outside them.
Running into the turn Long Run and rider Sam Waley Cohen had seemed to be battling unavailingly up the inside as young upstarts still not ready to take the seniors down. But as they swung to the outside to face the second last we had seen that they were beginning to course the others down. All three had jumped the fence together but now there was no doubting that youth had the power if its judgement did not betray it at the final leap.
It didn’t. Sam threw heart and soul to the other side and Long Run went with him. As they came past us you could see the young horse’s forelegs still biting into the Cheltenham turf while the older ones grew weary, all talent spent with only their innate toughness driving them up that final hill.
Clifford Baker’s face had a serenity about it. He had seen the taking of the crown but no one could match his pride in the losing of it.