Updated on 09/17/2011 10:05AM

Best Mate notches second Gold Cup


Best Mate cruised to a 10-length victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup Thursday.

The Henrietta Knight-trained gelding became the first horse to win consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups since the legendary L'Escargot in 1970-71.

Jim Culloty moved Best Mate, the 13-8 favorite, within striking position approaching the fourth-to-last fence as first Behrajan and then Best Mate's stablemate Chives set the pace. Best Mate sailed past Chives entering the home stretch, with just two fences to clear in the 3 5/16-mile steeplechase.

Crossing the line to a roar from the crowd, Best Mate had 10 lengths on the 33-1 runner-up Truckers Tavern with the 40-1 Harbour Pilot another 2 1/2 lengths back in third. Behrajan faded to fifth with Chives seventh. See More Business, the 1999 Gold Cup winner, finished eighth. The winning time over good ground was 6:39.

Best Mate's most dangerous rival, the Irish novice chaser Beef or Salmon, exited the race when he took a nasty spill at the third of 22 fences. It turned into an academic exercise thereafter, as the victorious 8-year-old son of Un Desperado established himself as perhaps the best British chaser of the last quarter century.

He may also be the most popular jumper seen in England since Desert Orchid, the gray gelding who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. Queen Elizabeth, who was making her first appearance at Cheltenham since 1951 when she was Princess Elizabeth, presented the trophy.

"I've got a heart here going so fast it could beat eggs," owner Jim Lewis said in the winner's circle. "The public loves Best Mate and they love Henrietta. She's a weaver of dreams."

Lewis pocketed $325,896 for the victory.

Could Lewis be dreaming of asking Best Mate to duplicate L'Escargot's unprecedented feat in 1975, when four years after his second Gold Cup triumph he became the only horse in history to win both the Gold Cup and the Grand National?

Probably not. Best Mate is not entered in this year's Grand National and may not run again this season. But Lewis is surely dreaming of matching the mark of the great Arkle, the last horse to win three straight Gold Cups (1964-66).