Who was the Best National Hunt Racing Horse of All Time?    

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 by  gareth1953 New Profile 

It is undeniable amongst the general population that three-time Grand National champion Red Rum is the most famous National Hunt horse of all time. However, this does not necessarily mean that he was the best. Whilst a brilliant and spectacular steed, in the race for the title of ‘greatest of all time’ Red Rum is pipped at the post by Desert Orchid.

Desert Orchid, who died at the ripe old age of 27 in 2006, was known for his front-running attacking style, tough mentality and extreme versatility during his stellar career. Not simply exceptional under the guidance of one jockey, Desert Orchid’s talents were harnessed successfully by four different riders – namely Colin Brown, Richard Linley, Simon Sherwood and Richard Dunwoody. During his time as a National Hunt horse, Desert Orchid won 34 races in total before retiring in 1991.

Initially ridden by Brown, who partnered Desert Orchid on 42 occasions, the iconic grey’s career began in 1983. Before switching to Steeplechasing in 1984, Desert Orchid won 17 races with Brown. However, Desert Orchid’s first race at Kempton was not promising. Despite a good start to the novice race, Desert Orchid fell heavily at the last hurdle and, having taken ages to get back to his feet, many thought that the grey’s first race would be his last.

Indeed, despite a promising start to his career, once no longer being eligible for novice hurdles, Desert Orchid struggled to transfer his early form into his professional era. Although winning one start that season, Desert Orchid lost seven and finished the year by falling spectacularly at Ascot.

After these initial teething problems, Desert Orchid went on somewhat of a rampage. Although perhaps most famous for his four consecutive wins at the King George VI Chase – held every Boxing Day – Desert Orchid triumphed at pretty much every major National Hunt event. Desert Orchid’s extensive C.V. includes wins at the Irish Grand National (1990), Gainsborough Chase (1987, 1989 and 1991) and the Martell Cup (1988) However, Desert Orchid’s most famous win occurred at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1988. Originally presumed a two-miler, Desert Orchid was stepped up to a three-miler by legendary jockey Simon Sherwood.

In the days prior to the Gold Cup, snow and rain had fallen heavily at Cheltenham. These were conditions that Desert Orchid, who was already at a disadvantage due to his discomfort on left-handed courses, had always struggled in. Nevertheless, despite these obstacles and debuting as a third-miler, Desert Orchid overhauled favourite Yahoo in the final stages of the race, scoring a stunning victory that current Cheltenham contender’s Hurricane Fly and Road to Riches can only dream of!

It is without question that the victory at Cheltenham was definitely the pinnacle of Desert Orchid’s career. However, Desert Orchid still continued to rack-up victories for the next few seasons. In 1989, with a new jockey in the form of Richard Dunwoody, Desert Orchid was victorious at Wincanton and the Racing Post Chase.

Desert Orchid did not reappear until late in 1990, when he finished second at the Haldon Gold Cup. With his career clearly coming to an end, Desert Orchid only appeared in three more races during the 1990/91 season – where he scored his final title at the Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown. Appropriately, Desert Orchid finished his career at the King George at Kempton, where he valiantly attempted to win his fifth title at the event.

It would be impossible to claim that Desert Orchid was the most talented or skilful steeplechaser. However, what the iconic grey lacked in raw ability he made up for in iron determination. There was no horse more capable of overcoming fear and adversity than Desert Orchid and that is what makes him the best of all time.

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