BOBS Worth is the new king of Cheltenham after the mud-splattered horse rewarded favourite backers with the gutsiest of Betfred Gold Cup triumphs.
A victory that has left an elated Nicky Henderson on the brink of his first trainers’ title since 1986, the pocket rocket Bobs Worth was discovered in a field in Ireland by his victorious jockey Barry Geraghty who then sold the horse at Doncaster Sales for just £20,000.
A second Gold Cup for both Henderson and Geraghty, the victory was a bittersweet one for the winning rider whose close friend, JT McNamara, is in a medically-induced coma with a serious neck injury after suffering a crashing fall at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Like every victorious rider yesterday, their first thoughts were with the stricken McNamara and an emotional Geraghty was no different following one of the defining wins of his career: “I’d love to be happier. All we can think about is John Thomas McNamara. We just hope and pray to God he’s okay.
“I wish it were a happier day...You have to put it out of your mind when you’re racing, but even though this is one of the biggest days of my career, all I could think about was John Thomas.”
As for the race and a seven-length win as Bobs Worth pulled clear of his rivals, Geraghty said: “This is a brilliant, gorgeous horse and he has a great attitude. He never travelled, he struggled on that ground, but he kept fighting.
“I knew three out I had five or six lengths to find, but I thought I had a good chance. He’s as game as a lion and he loves the job.”
The triumph of Bobs Worth means that the gelding is the first horse since Arkle’s stablemate Flyingbolt in the 1960s to win three different races at successive Festivals after adding the Gold Cup to his victories in the 2011 Albert Bartlett Hurdle and the RSA Chase 12 months ago.
The blue riband race, run on rain-softened ground, became a real war of attrition that tested the stamina and jumping of the 10 runners after the late withdrawal of Jonjo O’Neill’s Sunnyhill Boy, last year’s Grand National runner-up.
It paved the way for 17-times champion jockey AP McCoy to take the ride on Sir Des Champs in place of punctured lung victim Davy Russell – and Ireland’s only contender in steeplechasing’s blue riband race was always prominent behind the Henderson-trained Long Run.
The complexion of the race changed at the third-last fence as Silviniaco Conti fell when still in contention – champion trainer Paul Nicholls endured a luckless week – and nearly brought down Bobs Worth.
Yet Geraghty’s mount, owned by the aptly-named Not Afraid Partnership, was sufficiently nimble to retain his equilibrium before chasing down Long Run and Sir Des Champs on the turn for home.
Bobs Worth then took up the running going to the last – the eight-year-old has never been beaten once he has got his head in front – and he pulled clear of a very leg-weary Sir Des Champs, with the victor’s stablemate Long Run, the 2011 winner, plugging on in third under his amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen.
Appropriately, it was the 50th Festival winner for Henderson who is the most successful trainer in Cheltenham history.
Henderson, who had been left emotionally-drained by Sprinter Sacre’s scintillating win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase earlier in the week, was able to raise a smile as he led his triumphant horse into the hallowed winner’s enclosure and doffed his trilby to the exultant crowds.
“You can’t take anything away from Long Run, Sam (Waley-Cohen) was going hammer and tongs with AP (McCoy) and he wasn’t intimidated,” he said.
“It’s been a long week and a long old season, we’ve had to do the work at home with them and the staff have had to put up with me.
“It’s all a bit of a blur.”
Given the going did not play to the strengths of dual Festival winner Sir Des Champs, his trainer Willie Mullins was delighted. “It was a hell of a run,” he said.
Long Run’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen said: “I thought Sam judged the pace beautifully. I thought it was between him and Sir Des Champs turning in but Bobs Worth has come and sprinted past them both and I was thinking ‘where did he come from’?”
Cape Tribulation was a creditable fifth for Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson – he just lacked the turn of foot to keep pace with the market leaders – but Ruby Walsh was phlegmatic after Silviniaco Conti’s fall. “Who knows what would have happened? The third-last is a long way from home. He jumped fine up to then but probably ran a bit keen and you have to jump to win,” he said.