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Cheltenham – Racing: People's champ Dessie lands Gold

The number one spot in our top three Cheltenham Festival moments is Desert Orchid's victory in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The hugely popular grey dug deep in desperate conditions to win the Blue Riband event.

The Gold Cup truly is the race most coveted at the Cheltenam Festival and no shocks to find our top three moments also included Dawn Run's iconic 'beginning to get up' moment in 1986 at No.3 and the historic afternoon in 2009 when Kauto Star became the first, and so far the only, horse to regain the Gold Cup crown.

By the spring of 1989, Desert Orchid had won two King Georges and finished second in a Queen Mother Champion Chase already. He was a star of jumps racing but connections knew there was one glaring omission from his CV – the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

There were reservations over track and trip, but it all came together in one gloriously wet and muddy Cotswolds afternoon.

Crowning moment for People's Champion

'Dessie' as he was known to his fans, was more associated with Kempton Park racecourse, as he won the King George VI Chase four times, however, his victory in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup was the standout moment of his career.

Nothing about the Cheltenham Gold Cup really suited Dessie. He preferred right-handed courses like Kempton, he was better on flatter surfaces and the hill at the end of the race at Prestbury Park suited out-and-out stayers.

The talented grey overcame all those obstacles to join the sport's greatest with victory in the Blue Riband event in jumps racing.

This number one Cheltenham Festival moment almost didn't happen. When the rain came down heavily overnight and on the morning of the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup, connections talked about taking their horse out of the race.

Trainer David Elsworth was not convinced he would be able to do himself justice. Despite that chat, they decided to take their chance in the rain, and they were rewarded for that gamble as Sam Sherwood's partner produced a vintage run in atrocious conditions.

Despite the unfavourable conditions, Dessie went off as the 5/2 favourite for the race. He travelled well throughout, but he had work to do at the business end of the 3m2f contest, as Yahoo held the lead.

The pair of talented chasers battled up the hill at Cheltenham towards the finish line and it was the ever-popular grey who won that tussle.

The crowd made a huge noise when the pair jumped the last. Dessie seemed to react to that support by getting his neck down and finding the extra he needed to finish ahead of Yahoo.

Many racegoers had tears in their eyes as he crossed the line to land the race his connections had been so desperate to win with their horse.

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Only five finished in treacherous conditions

Given the amount of talent which lined up in that year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, the fact only five horses finished the race speaks volumes about how difficult the ground was during the Championship contest.

Charter Party came home eight lengths behind the front two, while Bonanza Boy and West Tip were a distance away, returning at a walking pace.

Carvill's Hill and Ten Plus, two horses who were fancied to put up the biggest challenge to Desert Orchid, both came down at fences.

No further Cheltenham gains

Unfortunately for his army of supporters, Dessie was unable to replicate what he achieved in 1989 on his subsequent visits to Cheltenham.

However, it was far from the end of his storyline, as he added more chapters to his incredible career, with wins following in the Racing Post Chase and Irish Grand National.

He returned to Cheltenham to compete in two more Gold Cups, finished third as 100/1 chance Norton's Coin prevailed in 1990 and occupying the same position a year later as Garrison Savannah for trainer Jenny Pittman.

After taking a tired fall at Kempton on Boxing Day 1991 in his beloved King George, Dessie was retired.

It is going to take a huge performance or moment for Dessie's 1989 Gold Cup victory to ever be dislodged as the top Cheltenham Festival moment.

The fairytale afternoon will be cherished forever by the horse's fans, as it was the day Dessie finally became a Gold Cup winner.

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