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If, like me, you are a presently engaged but historically vague millennial racing fan, Best Mate might be one of those horses whose name you’ve heard time and time again, but you never really knew why. Well, you’re probably aware he’s an all-time great. But did you actually know that he won the Peterborough Chase, King George VI and Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season? On the other hand, if you’re a boomer (no offence intended), or just a studious fan, you might well scoff at the patronising tone of this introduction. You’ll also be more than aware that Best Mate was trained by Henrietta Knight, ridden by Jim Culloty and was very the last horse to achieve this great feat.
It is our honour, therefore, to present a day at Huntingdon that celebrates all of this, and more. We have the Henrietta Knight Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat Race, the Lord Jim Culloty Novice Hurdle (a nod to his great Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere) and the ‘Best Mate’ Bonus. If the first two aren’t self-explanatory enough, the last certainly won’t be. We have decided, in a bid to revive some of Best Mate’s glory, that there should be a grand prize to any horse that can emulate his achievement in 2002. The grand prize, you may well ask? £500,000.
This apparently wasn’t enough to tempt Altior, although his most recent performance may offer a more insightful glimpse into whether he was ever a real candidate. Not to dump him on the back of one run, but the versatility required for this particular triple crown would appear to be beyond his undoubtable talents. It takes a special horse to win the Peterborough Chase, King George VI and Gold Cup in one season.
Time is of the essence
The most pressing issue is time, with just 18 days separating the first two legs. Granted some horses are capable of turning around in such a short space of time, but these days, it is rare for the very best. Trainers like to keep their prized assets as fresh as they can and historically the Peterborough Chase might not have been enough of a lure for a live King George VI contender. Not the case anymore!
The distance variation is key. Let’s dial back from the Gold Cup, run over a gruelling 3 ¼ miles, roughly a quarter mile and a hill more than the King George VI. Theoretically, not a substantial difference, but enough to stop some of the best. Just ask Might Bite, who travelled beautifully throughout the race last year but just couldn’t battle past mud king Native River in those final few strides. Then, you have to be able to win over just 2 ½ miles at Huntingdon! Both speed and stamina are challenged in so many ways across these three races that they require a truly remarkable horse to rise to the occasion.
The course, of course
There is very little these three tracks have in common. Ok, so Huntingdon and Kempton are both flat and right-handed but when you throw Cheltenham into the equation, all form goes out the window. A left-handed, hilly and undulating course, the atmosphere is unrivalled with a roar to intimidate even the bravest of champions. We hope the £500,000 Best Mate bonus will bring a spice of Prestbury Park to Huntingdon. Aso, La Bague Au Roi and Top Notch all line-up and we are anticipating a record crowd. Is there any horse out there to etch their name into the annals of history?