In the past, we've looked at the most impressive victories on the flat in my lifetime, but today, it's time to do it all over again, this time for National Hunt racing. Not so much the fast-finishing hold-up horses this time around, but some very special victories in their own right. Some are wide-margin winners. Some show phenomenal grit and determination, whilst some are simply timed to perfection. Either way, I’m sure we can appreciate them all the same. So get ready to see some familiar faces as we take a trip down memory lane.
10. Coneygree – Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cheltenham 2015)
Trained by Mark Bradstock, Coneygree was a lightly raced 8-year-old going into the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He went in on the back of 3 successive wins boasting an overall record of 7 wins from 9 runs. He was, however, the only novice in the field, and had only run 4 times in 2 years prior to the race. Coneygree started alertly, taking the lead after the first fence under Nico de Boinville. He jumped well throughout, with a few struggling from around halfway, and with 3 to jump, Nico asked for more as several others bunched up in behind. Upon jumping the last, it looked as though his closest challengers (Road To Riches and Djakadam) would get the better of him up the run-in, but despite drifting right, Coneygree found that bit extra to take it by around 1.5 lengths. A round of superb jumping and remorseless galloping saw him become the first novice to win the race for 41 years. He never really matched that form in 8 runs following the race, but a performance that is unlikely to be matched for many years to come.
9. Big Buck’s – World Hurdle (Cheltenham 2012)
The machine that is Big Buck’s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went into the race as the 5/6F under Ruby Walsh, chasing a 16-timer. A horse that many consider to be the best-staying hurdler in the history of horse racing, and from this performance, it was clear to see why. Lining up alongside other top-class horses, it was always going to be difficult off top weight, but Ruby got him into a prominent position from the start, and just let him work his way into the race. Approaching 3 out, he’d worked his way to the front, but several horses had grouped up in behind to steal his crown. Drifting left approaching the last flight, and then right upon landing, it looked as though Voler La Vedette would take it, but he just kept on finding to the line, in the end winning by almost 2 lengths. A mightily impressive and game performance in the World Hurdle, he won 2 further races before being retired in 2014. £1,309,055 in total earnings, he’s right up there with the best.
(Full race from Racing TV here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wloWIFTwEg)
8. Native River – Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cheltenham 2018)
A more recent victory this time, and one that often receives criticism on the basis that he only won when other horses underperformed. In my opinion, though, there is no disputing his gutsy win in the 2018 Gold Cup. He made most of the running, jumping well throughout and happily strolling out in front. Approaching the home turn, though, Might Bite came alongside and it looked like it was only a matter of time. Native River kept going valiantly, and the two landed neck and neck after taking the last. On the run to the line, Native River found more under Richard Johnson and bravely took it by some 4.5 lengths from the favourite. In a career spanning 30 races, Native River won 14 of those, over distances varying from 2m 1f to 3m 5f. A gutsy performer for trainer Colin Tizzard, and often unfairly criticised, he was right at home at the top level, and that performance showcased it best of all.
(Original video from Racing TV here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JtDOs9nljY)
7. Tiger Roll – Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (Cheltenham 2021)
Tiger Roll is such a household name in the horse racing world, and it was hard to just pick one race from his career to be on the list. Being the only horse since Red Rum in 1973-74 to win back-to-back Grand Nationals is some achievement, and his performance in the 2019 running of the race was arguably most impressive. But his most recent performance at Cheltenham is what I wanted to speak about this time around. Badly out of form since winning the National and with the trainer role being taken over by Denise Foster, the Glenfarclas Chase was a perfect opportunity to redeem himself, and redeem himself he did! Never out of the front 3 despite a few mistakes, Tiger Roll was always prominent under Keith Donoghue and took the lead from the 22nd fence. Asked to stretch approaching 3 out, he was soon 15 lengths clear, with the rest of the field struggling to stay with him. Upon popping over the last, he was kept up to his work and finished some 18 lengths ahead of his closest challenger Easyland in 2nd. There were some well-known proven horses in the race, including Balko Des Flos, Alpha Des Obeaux, and of course Easyland, but Tiger Roll demolished them, barely breaking a sweat. He’s won the Grand National and plenty of other top-class races during his career, but under the circumstances and his current run of form, his performance in this race will arguably sit above the rest. Talented, perhaps quirky, but impressive.
(Original video from Racing TV here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAqZFeslsVw)
6. Master Minded – Queen Mother Cheltenham Chase (Cheltenham 2008)
The Master, owned by Clive Smith (also owner of Kauto Star) and trained by Paul Nicholls, had an illustrious career. £1,163,946 in earnings and 16 wins from 28 starts tells you all that you need to know about this horse. One of the most talented horses of his time, Master Minded wiped the floor with his competitors in the Queen Mother in 2008. Ridden prominently as he liked to do, he was soon on the tails of the leaders under Ruby Walsh and was pushed to lead approaching the 7th. From here on out, it was pretty plain sailing. Taking each fence in his stride, he stretched the field more and more, coming readily clear from 2 out. A very impressive and assertive performance from the front saw him take the race by 19 lengths, with the rest finishing in dribs and drabs. That was towards the start of his very successful career, as he became one of the great chasers of all time. He won various other top-class chases, such as the Tingle Creek, Melling Chase, and Victor Chandler Chase.
5. Kauto Star – Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cheltenham 2009)
Kauto Star, a name that any racing fan will know and know well. One of the most successful steeplechasers of the modern era, with an astounding £2,375,883 in earnings, he was also the first horse to regain the Gold Cup after winning in 2007, and losing it in 2008. That is the race I want to look at today. After losing the cup to long-time rival and stablemate Denman by 7 lengths, Kauto Star piloted by Ruby Walsh was out for revenge. The race followed a similar pattern; the two horses raced pretty much together, matching strides approaching the business end of the race. Kauto’s jumping this time, though, was considerably better than the previous year, which showed by what he had left in the tank. Denman battled on gamely as he always did, but approaching the second last, Kauto was pulling away and was soon in the clear. His lead stretched to 13 lengths approaching the line, winning impressively, and silencing his critics. He tried a further 3 times following that race to defend his crown but came up short each time. First, he fell 4 out in the 2010 running, before finishing a well-held 3rd a year later when it was reported he bled from the nose. He then pulled up in the 2012 running of the race in what would be his last visit to a racetrack. A top-class horse and despite a sorry end to his career, he will forever be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
(Full race can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d439gwp4CI&t=26s)
4. Denman – Cheltenham Gold Cup (Cheltenham 2008)
We’ve had Kauto, so it would be rude not to have Denman too. A lot of deliberation went on in deciding whether Denman’s successful bid or Kauto’s regaining of the cup was more impressive, but I plumped for Denman. So often seen playing ‘second fiddle’ to Kauto Star, it was his turn to take the limelight under Sam Thomas. As mentioned above, both horses liked to race prominently, but it was in this race, however, where cracks began to show for Kauto Star. It topped an excellent front running performance with Denman going clear, as Kauto himself did so often. Despite the best efforts of the opposition, there was no catching him as he won by 7 lengths, with the rest of the field finishing well apart. The argument of which is better will no doubt continue for years to come, but appreciating the quality of both horses and their rivalry is something we are unlikely to see again for a very long time. Kauto was arguably the better of the two based on statistics, but 14 wins from 24 races for Denman and over £1million in earnings is nothing to be frowned upon.
3. Sprinter Sacre – Queen Mother Champion Chase (Cheltenham 2013)
An outstanding 2-mile chaser, with over £1million in earnings, 18 wins from 24 races, and 2 wins in the Queen Mother, Sprinter Sacre was top-class! It’s also worth remembering he went 10 races unbeaten, beating the likes of Cue Card and Sizing Europe twice each during that spree. Sprinter Sacre successfully regained the Queen Mother title in 2016, beating Un De Sceaux, but his performance in the 2013 running of the race was something else. Always up with the pace, and jumping fluently, he took the lead with 4 to jump. No sooner had he taken the lead, he was clear and still on the bridle. In the end, it was a procession, beating Sizing Europe by some 19 lengths. To perform at such a level, completely dominating the opposition in that way further proves the quality he possessed. Wishfull Thinking and Sanctuaire further back were no slouches either! That was victory number 8 in his 10 race unbeaten run before pulling up in the Desert Orchid Chase with an irregular heartbeat. He was never quite as emphatic after, but he rounded out his career with another win streak of 4, in which he won the Queen Mother again.
2. Kauto Star – King George VI Chase (Kempton 2009)
It wasn’t just the Gold Cup that Kauto Star won more than once, he also won the King George a record 5 times, with perhaps his two greatest victories coming in 2009 and 2011. The 2011 running of the race saw him pull clear with fellow hard-hitter Long Run, where he won by 1.25 lengths. His win in the 2009 running, however, was superb. Again under Ruby Walsh, Kauto jumped immaculately at nothing more than a steady canter. It’s worth bearing in mind that this field contained the likes of Imperial Commander, Albertas Run, and Madison Du Berlais, which makes this victory even more impressive. Under steady headway, he took the lead after the 12th and pulled clear. You’d be mistaken in thinking he’d gone too soon, as he showed all of his class and pulled further ahead, eventually beating the runner-up Madison Du Berlais by as little as 36 lengths! A simply sublime performance from a world-class steeplechaser, running his opposition ragged and returning in dribs and drabs, it earned him an RP rating of 192, the highest ever gained by a National Hunt horse. Many believe this to be the best performance ever, and I'd be inclined to agree, but there is only one horse that can take the top spot for me, and here's why…
1. Many Clouds – Cotswold Chase (Cheltenham 2017)
No, it’s not the flashiest performance you’ve ever seen, nor was it the most elite field either, but this performance holds a special place in horse racing history. Many Clouds takes first place on this list, for no other reason than he was a horse that gave EVERYTHING! He didn’t win the most money (£928,000), he wasn't the highest-rated horse (OR:167), and nor did he win by the furthest distance (a head), but he was adored by many, and perhaps, the gutsiest of them all. He lined up as an 8/1 shot for the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase in 2017, alongside 6 other competitors (including Thistlecrack, Smad Place, and Silviniaco Conti), under jockey Leighton Aspell. Well known as a thorough stayer, the 3mile 1furlong trip was right up his street. Jumping well throughout and taking up the lead with 4 to jump, he was travelling strongly. Thistlecrack provided a stern test jumping the final two fences, but Many Clouds dug deep and stayed on gamely to hold on. A top-class staying performance that saw him assessed as the leading staying steeplechaser in Britain and Ireland for the 2016-17 season. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a joyous occasion ended in tragedy, as Many Clouds collapsed and passed away from an exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. The intense exercise he undertook ultimately ended in tragedy, but it shows the grit and determination that this horse had to give everything to win. A true sporting great that will never be forgotten.
(Full race from Racing TV here: https://www.racingtv.com/videos/watch/horse_racing_replays/3978-betbright-trial-cotswold-chase-grade-2-1)
So that's that, my top 10 most impressive horse racing victories of all time in jumps racing. Honourable mentions go to Arkle, Desert Orchid, Istabraq and Red Rum for their performances. Had these happened during my lifetime, then maybe they would've featured on the list, but I wanted to keep it to races that I had personally witnessed.
Are there any performances from the past 20 years that you would have included? Let me know in the comments below!