Gold Cup Preview 2024

BROUGH SCOTT

Mouse Morris, trainer of Gentlemansgame

Basking in the back slapping pleasure of the winner’s enclosure as his Teahupoo was led away in triumph after the Stayers Hurdle, Brian Acheson beamed beneath his Peaky Blinders cap and repeated Hannibal Smith’s famous closing lines in “The A Team” : “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Today’s plans will be even bigger with both Gerri Colombe and Gentlemansgame carrying the black sleeved, pink and white halved silks in the Gold Cup itself. Appropriately enough their owner’s interest had been kindled exactly 38 years ago today.

“Racing just wasn’t on my radar back then,” said the now 58 year head of the Dornon Engineering giant, his round, bubbling bright face alert and smiling beneath the thatch of silver white hair. “I was just a student at Dublin University watching a sweep on the Gold Cup, we watched Dawn Run win on the TV. I was hooked.”

His mother giving him a leg in a horse as a wedding present soon complicated the plot. For while the animal turned out to be useless Acheson persisted in breeding further untalented thoroughbreds until finally buying an unraced Godolphin reject which two years later at Punchestown beat a Willie Mullins hotpot at the first time of asking. “I was watching it on my laptop at Heathrow,” remembers the owner, “I was hollering so much I was lucky they didn’t arrest me.”

The noise was even louder yesterday as Teahupoo duelled with the 2021 and 2022 Stayers Hurdle winner Flooring Porter to justify both favouritism and the decision not to run him after success back in December. This afternoon the hollering could be even higher, as with Gerri Colombe and Gentlemansgame, run, as Teahupoo did,  under the “Robcur” banner combining the names of Acheson’s son Robert and daughter Courtenay.

“They were becoming interested and I have been very fortunate,” says the man whose assets from his data base centre building operation are reputedly over E100million but who still likes to coach the Clonmel U12s at Gaelic Football . “I can’t take the money with me so we wanted to have a go.”

It has not been unsuccessful, the Gordon Elliott trained Cheltenham Teahupoo being their fourth Festival winner in 4 years. The first came in 2021 when Rachael Blackmore drove the Henry De Bromhead trained Bob Olinger home in the Ballymore Hurdle, a success repeated in the next year’s Turner’s Novices Chase albeit owing to the capsize of today’s Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs at the last fence. Blackmore and De Bromhead were also responsible for Tuesday’s Robcur winner Slade Steel as they are for Gerri Colombe this afternoon.

“I like to spread the load,” says Acheson, “but it is all about the experience and with Mouse (Morris, the trainer of Gentlemansgame) it was the chance to support a legend.”

Despite Gerri Colombe’s £340k  from nine wins and two seconds including a short head defeat at last year’s Festival and a 25 length trouncing from Gold Cup favourite in December, Acheson has no illusions of turning a profit. Big hitting owners come and go but the way Acheson and his family and friends have embraced the game make you feel this one is in for the long term.

Leaning against the rail on the other side of the paddock was a small, grey coated figure with a crumpled face, a ruminative look, and an elderly Mickey Mouse adorned yellow tie. The Honourable Michael Morris, second son of author, war correspondent, film producer and Olympic Committee president Lord Killanin but who escaped from public school to stable and first sampled Cheltenham as a 16 year old working beside the course with Frenchy Nicholson alongside future flat race stars Tony Murray and Pat Eddery.

Mouse is 72 now and has not just seen it all before, he has done most of it himself. He rode his first Festival winner 50 years ago on Mr Midland and before a bad fall in America ended a highly skilled career he had also won the Champion Chase in both 1976 and 1977 on Skymas and the Irish National in the latter year on Billycan.

Training has been even more successful, among his seven Festival wins being Buck House’s 1986 Champion Chase, the same year’s Foxhunter’s ridden by Ted Walsh  for the Coolmore Supremo John Magnier and, of course, the crowning glory of the Gold Cup with War Of Attrition in 2006.

In the wider world the tragedy of his son Tiffer’s death in 2015 was touched by the Irish Grand National success with Rogue Angel and then the race itself at Aintree with Rule The World. He has never had a big stable, nor it can be said has ever put Savile Row tailoring at the top of his interests, and while Gentlemansgame confirmed his top flight ability by outgunning last year’s Gold Cup second in the coveted Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, that was back in November and the Tipperary stable has not trained a winner since.

It’s not something that worries their handler. “The horses have been running well, it’s just that we are a small operation,” he says without a semblance of self-pity nor need of apology, “this horse had a small hitch at Christmas but he is fit enough. His problem will be inexperience (the grey Gentlemansgame has run but four times over fences) but he has got real talent and he will stay. Apart from the favourite I think he has as good a chance as the rest of them.”

Cheltenham is a place of memories but for making them too. Mouse Morris looked out over the course which has brought his adult life such glory and on up to Cleeve Hill where his youth had some of its coldest as well as most glorious of mornings. “I don’t long for the past” he said, “I think I am as happy now as I have ever been.

If Gentlemansgame delivers this afternoon, it won’t need a TV script to give us the lines.

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