If my first two entries were about glorious wins it is only right I include this bitter defeat.
For the Stayers Hurdle of 1999 a harsh lesson was learned. It represented the eclipse of a horse, who to my mind was a certainty, a class above, a maximum bet, by a 40-1 unheralded and unheard of outsider.
Le Coudray, representing the Istabraq connections of JP, Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Swan was sent off 2-1 joint favourite, having drifted from an opening 5-4. That might have been a warning. But I was never a fan of the other joint fav Deano’s Beano from the Pipe yard or the tough Lady Rebecca, a 3-1 shot. Le Coudray had come to Ireland with a big price tag and an even bigger reputation, and won his Irish debut at Naas beating Limestone Lad, a fair yardstick, by 20 lengths.
Deano’s Beano set off at a fast pace, under McCoy, trying to get them all under pressure early. But it wasn’t an easy lead, which he surrendered at the top of the hill on the second circuit. At this point Le Coudray, a big horse dwarfing the mare Lady Rebecca, was disputing 3rd jumping and travelling easily enough.
At the home turn it looked a two horse race. Lady Rebecca, under Stormin’ Norman Williamson was poised to take the lead from Sallies Girl, with Le Coudray, stalking her going oh so easy sitting on her tail under Charlie Swan. Nothing else looked like getting in it.
On the run in Charlie Swan took Le Coudray past Lady Rebecca but in the blink of an eye things changed. Commentator Graham Goode shouted “from the clouds here comes Anzum with a devastating run” and under a power packed Richard Johnson ride Anzum got there in the last strides to lift the stayers hurdle.
For that day at the Festival I was lucky enough to be in the panoramic restaurant with my father-in-law. The best view in the house. And a view that had this certainty, Le Coudray all the way the winner until about three strides from the line. Maybe not the first painful Cheltenham moment and certainly not the last, but certainly one of those most painful.
A couple of other interesting titbits from the race. Anzum was Richard Johnson’s first Festival winner. Now on his way to a third title he now has 17.
Also, and somewhat anachronistically, as you watch the race you hear Channel 4 were still using two commentators. Graham Goode from the grandstand and Simon Holt calling as they went down the back. That couldn’t have lasted much longer.