Wednesday 17 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival – ‘Championship’ Races 2003

Champion Hurdle

The 2003 Champion Hurdle was won, in emphatic style, by Rooster Booster, owned by Terry Warner, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, all of whom were recording their first win in the race. The popular grey had won the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the 2002 Cheltenham Festival, but improved out of all recognition – officially by 19lb – in 2002/03. His winning margin, of 11 lengths, has been bettered just twice in the history of the Champion Hurdle. Defending champion Hors La Loi III blotted his copybook by refusing to race.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Native Upmanship and Cenkos find second and third, as they had in 2002, but the previous year’s winner, Flagship Uberalles, could only finish fifth of the eight finishers, beaten 20 lengths, behind the winner, Moscows Flyer. Jessica Harrington’s the 9-year-old had won the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the previous Cheltenham Festival and, notwithstanding a non-completion in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, had won all four completed starts since, so looked a worthy favourite. Aided by the fall of Latalomne, who was going well, at the second last fence for the second year running, Moscow Flyer soon had the race sewn up, winning by 7 lengths.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Defending champion, Baracouda, who’d been turned over at 4/11 on his previous start in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, where jockey Thierry Doumen overdid the waiting tactics, once again started favourite at 9/4. The 8-year-old had to work a little harder than the previous year, but nevertheless collected, staying on gamely up the hill to deny the 6-year-old Iris’s Gift, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

A.P. McCoy famously said in the build-up to the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup, “I don't know what I’m riding this year and I don’t think it matters. Best Mate will win.” The multiple champion jockey was, of course, correct in his assertion; backed into 13/8 favourite, defending champion Best Mate came clear with two to jump and won easily by lengths. In so doing, he became the first horse since L’Escargot, in 1971, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice.

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