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All-time top five Cheltenham Festival races

The Cheltenham Festival is renowned as the 'greatest show on turf' and as a showcase for the very best of National Hunt racing.

For four days in March, the Cheltenham Festival allows racing to transcend the norm in terms of exposure to a wider sporting audience with the thrills and spills in the Cotswolds appealing to both dedicated racing followers and casual sporting observers in huge numbers.

Here we pick out five of our favourite races from Cheltenham Festival's gone by.

Horse Racing

2008 Gold Cup: Denman pounds Kauto Star into submission

Very few Cheltenham Festival races have generated the sort of build-up that the 2008 Gold Cup managed to do.

Paul Nicholls was the top trainer around at the time and, in his care, he had the two best staying chasers of the day – Kauto Star and Denman, who lived side-by-side in adjacent boxes at his Ditcheat yard.

The trainer made it clear from early in the season they would be kept apart until the Gold Cup, when a major collision would occur. They became both front and back page news in the countdown to their Cotswolds duel.

Ruby Walsh was on board Kauto Star, the reigning champion and favourite, but Sam Thomas and Denman produced an unmerciful display of front-running power to bludgeon the finishing burst of 'King Kauto', as 'The Tank' prevailed after pouring on the pressure for a full circuit of Cheltenham.

Famously, commentator Richard Hoiles declared that Denman: "relentless, remorseless - had pounded Kauto Star into submission" as he passed the winning post.

The brilliant Kauto Star made history in reversing the placings 12 months later as he became the first and only horse so far to win a Gold Cup, lose one, and win it back again. Denman was never out of the first two in his four successive Gold Cups but this particular afternoon was his peak.

1986 Gold Cup: Dawn Run 'beginning to get up' for history-making win

In more than a century of the Cheltenham Festival, just one horse has managed to win the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.

The mighty mare Dawn Run made history in 1986 for trainer Paddy Mullins as she won the Gold Cup to go with her 1984 Champion Hurdle success.

It wasn't without controversy. On her fourth start as a chaser at Cheltenham in January 1986, jockey Tony Mullins (son of the trainer) was thrown off – an outcome that led to Jonjo O'Neill replacing him in the saddle for the Gold Cup at the behest of controversial owner Charmian Hill.

With defending champion Forgive 'N Forget and three-time King George scorer Wayward Lad in the mix, it was a strong Gold Cup and that pair were in pole position jumping the final fence.

Dawn Run closed on them up the famous Cheltenham hill and the grandstands were in raptures as legendary commentator Sir Peter O'Sullevan exclaimed: "The mare's beginning to get up" just as Dawn Run hit the front for a famous and still unmatched success.

2004 Gold Cup: Best Mate completes Gold Cup treble

Not since the halcyon days of the great Arkle in the mid-1960s had a horse managed a Gold Cup hat-trick, but that was the ambition of Best Mate when Henrietta Knight's star lined up in 2004 going for three-in-a-row.

Best Mate was hugely popular by this time and so all the pressure was on Jim Culloty in the saddle.

Harbour Pilot and French raider First Gold were leading the race but Culloty made his challenge on the outside and neither that duo nor the likes of Sir Rembrandt and Beef Or Salmon coming after him could usurp the champion as he inked another famous chapter in the Gold Cup history book.

Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020 is the only horse since Best Mate to achieve successive Gold Cup wins, though his stablemate Galopin Des Champs is 10/11 to match that feat in 2024.

2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase: Sprinter Sacre rises from the ashes

There is something innately brilliant about watching a fallen heavyweight champion clamber off the canvas to deliver one, final, knockout blow. For Sprinter Sacre, that is what he pulled off in the 2016 Champion Chase.

By the spring of 2013 and following wins at all the major festivals at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown, Nicky Henderson's star was the undoubted king of two-mile chasing and his record showed 10 wins in 10 starts over the larger obstacles.

However, on his seasonal bow at Kempton he was pulled up to shrieks from the crowd and diagnosed with a heart condition. He returned a year later and was beaten by Dodging Bullets at Ascot, with many subsequently writing him off.

Dubbed 'The Black Aeroplane' he was now grounded and two more setbacks followed that season before Sprinter Sacre won the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November 2015.

He was back to a degree, and won again at Kempton that Christmas, but was still expected to prove no match for Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase come March.

Nico de Boinville and Sprinter Sacre hit the front two out in a pulsating contest and would not be overhauled, as cavernous roars from the stands urged them home, with Nicky Henderson labelling it 'his best day in racing'.

2015 Golden Miller Novices' Chase: Vautour's masterclass one to remember

Not one from a Championship race, but Vautour's tour de force in the Grade 1 novice chase over two-and-a-half-miles in 2015 lives long in the memory.

The Rich Ricci-owned star won three times at this meeting – bagging the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in 2014 and the Ryanair Chase in 2016 – and was unbeaten in the Cotswolds, but this was surely his zenith moment.

He made all under Ruby Walsh and produced a wonderful round of jumping to cruise away by 15 lengths and win, labelled "a gazelle in equine form" after his superb, athletic display.

Sadly, Vautour broke his leg in a freak accident in his paddock in November 2016, by which point he was amongst the favourites for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory that season. He was never defeated around Prestbury Park.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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