Monday 12 November 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2002

The 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by the Tote, featured 18 runners – the biggest field since Silver Buck beat 21 rivals in 1982 – and was the first to be run for two years, after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth required the abandonment of the Cheltenham Festival in 2001.

The defending champion, Looks Like Trouble, ridden by Richard Johnson, was sent off 9/2 favourite, ahead of Bacchanal, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, at 6/1 and Best Mate, ridden by Jim Culloty, at 7/1 in an open betting heat.

Looks Like Trouble and 1999 winner, See More Business showed their rivals the way until the third last fence, at which point See More Business took a definite advantage. Paul Nicholls’ 12-year-old was challenged by Commanche Court, ridden by Ruby Walsh, on the home turn, but Best Mate – who’d travelled well into the race coming down the hill – took over, narrowly, on the run to the last fence and ran on well up the hill to win by 1¾ lengths. Commanche Court could make no impression close home, but finished second, with the veteran See More Business a gallant third, a further 8 lengths away.

Best Mate was attempting 3 miles 2½ furlongs for the first time, but winning trainer Henrietta Knight said afterwards, “I always knew that he’d stay. My only doubt was that it was a year too soon, that we were asking too much too early, but he’s answered every question today.”

Winning jockey Jim Culloty was equally delighted, saying of Best Mate, “He’s got the engine. I was always cruising. I got squeezed a little bit as Joe’s [See More Business, ridden by Joe Tizzard] came across me, but I wasn’t panicking because I didn’t want to get there too soon anyway.

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