Best Mate has emulated Arkle and joined horse racing's greats after he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the third year in succession.
Ridden by Jim Culloty for trainer Henrietta Knight, Best Mate, the 8-11 favourite, thrilled the 60,000 sell-out crowd on Thursday with another magnificent display of jumping and battled home ahead of Sir Rembrandt, a 33-1 outsider ridden by Andrew Thornton.
After Best Mate's emotional victory, Knight, a former schoolteacher, ran and embraced her husband Terry Biddlecombe, an ex-jockey who rode against Arkle in the 1960s.
She said: "It is the it biggest relief in the world. I thought we were beaten coming to the last. He was brilliantly ridden."
Culloty added: "This is the Gold Cup and there is no quarter given. He battled on really well."
Third place in the 10-strong field went to Harbour Pilot (20-1), the mount of Paul Carberry who appeared to hamper the champion as he made his move turning into the straight.
But Best Mate managed to grab the lead and jumped the final fence clear of Harbour Pilot. The nine-year-old then had to call on all his reserves to battle it out to the line, holding off the late surge of Sir Rembrandt by half-a-length.
Best Mate is now a fully paid-up member of an elite band of chasers to win the Gold Cup at least three times, following in the hooves of Arkle (1964-66), Cottage Rake (1948-1950) and Golden Miller who triumphed five times between 1932-36.
It is with Best Mate that Knight will always be associated. The former Irish point-to-pointer was bought by Jim Lewis, one of Knight's earliest supporters, in 1999 and has gone on to deliver a string of big-race successes including the last two Tote Cheltenham Gold Cups. Best Mate will this year bid to become the first horse since the legendary Arkle in the 1960s to win chasing's Blue Riband three times.
Henrietta Knight was born on December 15, 1946, and had an affinity with horses from an early age. She got an early taste for training when sharpening up a retired chaser, Rowland Ward, owned by her mother, to win the members' race at the 1964 Old Berkshire Hunt point-to-point at Lockinge. She became involved in the eventing world and rode Blitzkrieg to finish 12th at Badminton in 1973, going on to become a judge at Burghley and then chairing the British three-day event Olympic selection committee from 1984 until 1988.
Knight had also qualified as a schoolteacher and spent four years teaching history and biology locally at St Mary's, Wantage, before setting up a horse livery business in 1974, initially breaking in horses for Tim Forster and later other trainers such as Fred Winter and Michael Dickinson. She also began training point-to-pointers and had over 100 winners in that sphere before taking out a full training licence in 1989, enjoying her first success when The Grey Gunner won a novice chase at Bangor on August 18 that year.
Knight met former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe, one of the idols of her youth, in 1993 and the following year he moved in to West Lockinge and the pair now very much operate as a team, training among a menagerie of animals at the converted farm.
A first National Hunt Festival success came in 1997 when Karshi, owned by the Cheltenham racecourse chairman and Knight's brother-in-law Lord Vestey, landed the bonusprint.com Stayers' Hurdle.
As well as Best Mate's two Gold Cups, Knight has enjoyed other successes at the Festival via Edredon Bleu in the 1998 Grand Annual Chase and 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase and with Lord Noelie in the 2000 Royal & SunAlliance Chase.
Away from the Cheltenham Festival, her biggest wins have included this season's Pertemps King George VI Chase with Edredon Bleu, who also won Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase for four years from 1998 to 2001. Maximize landed the 2001 Feltham Novices' Chase for the stable while Best Mate's big wins include the 2000 Martell Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, the 2000 Independent Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, 2001 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown, 2001 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, 2002 Peterborough Chase, 2002 Pertemps King George VI Chase and this season's Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown.
1997 BONUSPRINT.COM STAYERS' HURDLE Karshi 7-11-10 Jamie Osborne Lord Vestey 20/1
BEST MATE (IRE)
Best Mate is the greatest steeplechaser of recent years and last season became the first horse since L'Escargot in 1970 and 1971 to win the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup twice. He is odds-on favourite to win chasing's Blue Riband for a third time on Thursday, March 18, something last achieved by the great Arkle from 1964 to 1966.
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