Golden Days : 1998 Gold Cup

Cool Dawn (Photo Credits- Racing Post Website)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Horse racing brings people together and that was the case with myself and Robert ‘Bob’ Rowley. A friend of my grandparents, Bob and I chatted at length about our shared love of this fantastic sport. He sadly passed away earlier this month and left me behind some beautiful memorabilia. In particular, something that fascinated me was the racecard and ticket from the 1998 Gold Cup. It looked brand-new – even though it is six and a half years older than me.

The biggest difference between the current Gold Cup Day and that of the one in 1998 was that the latter was on a Thursday. The racecard was a mere £1.50 and the ticket Bob had was £15 for the ‘Courage Enclosure’. This year, the racecards were £4 and the tickets start from roughly £40.

The first race was, like nowadays, the Triumph Hurdle and it was won by Upgrade for Nigel Twiston-Davies, Carl Llewelyn and Mr Matt Archer and Miss Jean Broadhurst. The ‘Be My Guest’ gelding was pulled up on hurdles bow but progressed nicely to win three races before his win on the big stage. He moved to Martin Pipe in January 2000 and, by the February, he’d won the Scilly Isles under AP McCoy. After this, he won five more races for his new yard.

Next up was the Stayers Hurdle. This three mile and half a furlong contest was won by Jenny Pitman and Princeful. He was a surprise winner at 16/1 (not quite as big as Lisnagar Oscar at 50s this year though) under Rodney Farrant. After this, he won the King Distance Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle but was brought down and badly injured on his first start over fences. He couldn’t quite get back to old form, retiring in 2002. Farrant also won the Scottish Grand National for Pitman on Willsford.

The Official Racecard

At 3:15, it was time for the big race – the Gold Cup. Jockeys to note in the race were Brian Harding of One Man fame who retired in 2017; Adrian Maguire who is making a name for himself as a trainer; Chris Maude who is a jockeys valet; Andrew Thornton who retired in 2018 and now does TV work; AP McCoy who needs no introduction; Richard Dunwoody a three times Champion jockey; Mick Fitzgerald who presents on ITV Racing and Sky Sports Racing; Carl Llewelyn who is Nigel Twiston-Davies’ assistant and Leighton Aspell who went on to win two Grand Nationals.

The race commenced with a standing start, something that occurred on multiple occasions through the 2020 Festival and much to the disgust of the racing public. Andrew Thornton popped the 25/1 shot Cool Dawn out in front and behind him it was dramatic. AP McCoy sharply pulled up Cyborgo, who was lame, but, in doing so, taking 150/1 shot Indian Tracker and, more crucially, the second favourite See More Business out of the race. That horse got his compensation by winning the 1999 renewal under Mick Fitzgerald. When the 9/4 favourite Dorans Pride, for Irish trainer Michael Hourigan, hit the third last, there became a live chance that Cool Dawn could make all. Because of his impeccable round of jumping and willing attitude, he managed to win by nearly two lengths, under Andrew Thornton, who was seen as a pundit on ITV Racing a few weeks ago.

Cool Dawn passed away a few months before Thornton retired in 2018 at the ripe old age of 30. Before his Gold Cup win, he’d, remarkably, won the Foxhunters under his owner Dido Harding, who bought him from an extension on her business school loan aged twenty-four. Now Baroness Harding, she is involved in racing through her dual Becher Chase winner Walk In The Mill, who had Grand National aspirations, which sadly won’t be fulfilled this year. In February, Cool Dawn’s trainer Robert Alner died in hospital aged 76. He rode as an amateur then took out a license in 1993 to train. He paralyzed in a car accident in 2007 but gave up training in 2010. The response from his passing showed just what a well-loved character he had been.

It seems like a long time since February now. Racing in Britain has stopped for the “foreseeable future” but at least – and controversially so – we got Cheltenham! Gold Cup Day was dramatic from the outset with the Triumph Hurdle. Miles clear from the last, Goshen, under Jamie Moore, missed the stride and, on landing, over reached himself – catapulting Jamie out of the saddle and onto the Cheltenham turf. Paul Townend was the lucky benefactor but he was gracious in victory, as was his boss Willie Mullins. They know full well what it is like to have a disaster in the home straight.

Back in 2018 at Punchestown, a split-second lapse in judgement caused Townend and Al Boum Photo to go out of the wing of the last fence. It caused mass hysteria on social media and Townend’s reasoning was that he heard shouting and thought he had to avoid the fence so swerved at the last minute, taking Finian’s Oscar with him. The incident was a genuine mistake but they redeemed themselves in last year’s renewal of the Gold Cup. Because of this, the pairing came into the race as the horse that would provide the media with the ideal narrative – a dual Gold Cup win! Frodon and Paisley Park had failed to replicate last year’s heroics so it was all down to them.

The jockeys hit the headlines this week with Rachel Blackmore on Honeysuckle and Barry Geraghty on Epatante and Champ to name just two! Townend got The Jockeys Championship title after success on Burning Victory in the Triumph and Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett. Also riding was Daryl Jacob, who’d ridden Concertista on the Thursday; Aidan Coleman who’s week had been a prime example of the ups and downs of racing through the week; Harry Cobden taking the reins on Clan Des Obeaux, the King George winner; Robbie Power in the minion silks on Lostintranslation; Rachel Blackmore and Jonjo O’Neill Jr, having their first rides in the Gold Cup; top amateur Patrick Mullins, who had a frustrating week; Mark Walsh on promising novice Delta Work; this season’s champion jockey Brian Hughes and Nico De Boinville, looking to replicate heroics of his win on Coneygree.

We had the top class jockeys all paired with the best of the equine participants. Sadly, an injury ruled out Native River, the chief pace angle, from the race so it was a fairly slowly ran affair. All the runners were bang there from three out. Al Boum Photo and Lostintranslation jumped the last in sync and Paul Townend shot off on their winning run. But Santini was coming at him in the dying strides, with the cheek pieces working the oracle on him, but Al Boum Photo struck out his proud head and prevailed. It was a deserved success and lit up the sport of horse racing, for a while overshadowing the threat of Corona Virus on the horizon.

This heartbreaking pandemic has caused a blunt end to National Hunt racing this season and has put so much uncertainty and sadness into the world. We’ve all just got to hope it goes away soon and not many more lives are taken by it. I don’t want to end this on a bad note. Horse racing and this country will get through it and come out of the other side for many more wonderful days like when Cool Dawn and Al Boum Photo won their Gold Cups, some twenty-two years apart.

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