Ten of the best: No 10 1990 Gold Cup

It’s been fun writing this series of 10 of the most exciting, dramatic and special moments that I’ve seen at Cheltenham in the 28 years I’ve been going.

It was also fun to run a poll on Twitter to see where people thought I’d go with the last one. It’s not Istabraq, or Best Mate – two horses who won their championship races three times. It’s not the brilliant Kauto Star either. It is Desert Orchid – but it’s not the 1989 race which I’ve blogged about before and have referred to in this series in the Ikdam post.

It is 1990 and the story of the biggest outsider I’ve seen win at Cheltenham – Norton’s Coin, trained by Welsh dairy farmer and permit holder Sirrell Griffiths who won the Gold Cup at 100-1.

After the drama and emotion of the year before, 1990 was meant to be Desert Orchid’s coronation, of being possibly the best horse since Arkle. Since his success 12 months earlier, Dessie had comfortably won another King George, and in his run before Cheltenham he had given Delius 2 stone and an 8 length beating in the Racing Post Chase Now with Richard Dunwoody on board he seemed at his peak and was made the odds on favourite at 10-11 in a strong field that included decent chasers such as last year’s runner up Yahoo, Cavvies Clown, Kildimo, Pegwell Bay, Toby Tobias and Bonanza Boy.

The field also included 100-1 shot Norton’s Coin, who had never won in such exalted company, or over the Gold Cup trip – and frankly hadn’t looked like doing so.

The race was run at a furious pace, with Ten of Spades and Desert Orchid going at it in front. They couldn’t get away though and as they ran downhill on the final circuit Toby Tobias loomed large and looked to be going best of all. He took it up from the dashing grey as they approached the last.

Toby jumped the last in front with Norton’s Coin his challenger. Desert Orchid was held – although the BBC cameraman seemed to forget there were others in the race and briefly just focused on the grey. As the shot cut back to the front two Norton’s Coin was just getting on top in a furious drive to the line, under Graham McCourt, and in the shadows of the post went on to win by 3/4 of a length.

What a shock. 100-1. Even the trainer thought that 3rd was probably the best he might achieve. It just proves that there is no such thing as a certainty and that just sometimes anything can happen. In 18 further races Norton’s Coin managed to win once more but he won the one that mattered and went into sporting history.

As we get ready for the 2018 Festival, with the going heavy who knows what is going to happen this year. Can’t wait!


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