Best Mate, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004, was the first horse since Arkle to win the three consecutive renewals of the Blue Riband of steeplechasing. Shortly after his third victory, his former trainer, Henrietta Knight said, “I don’t compare Best Mate with Arkle. It’s looking ahead that I prefer to do.”
Best Mate could, conceivably, have gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup again, had he not tragically collapsed and died, from a suspected heart attack, after being pulled up on his first start of the 2005/06 season. Comparisons with Arkle, while futile, are inevitable and while Timeform Ratings – billed as the “definitive assessment” of horse racing form – suggest that Arkle was a class apart, conventional wisdom suggests that the respected provider dropped a clanger in its assessment of the legendary Irish ‘chaser.
In any event, Best Mate was, without question, a hugely talented performer. He finished first or second in 21 of his 22 starts under National Hunt Rules, won 11 of his 16 steeplechases and amassed over £1 million in prize money. In his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival, in 2000, he started 6/1 second favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but, despite running on strongly in the closing stages, could never quite reach the eventual winner, Sausalito Bay, and finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length.
Best Mate was sent over fences at the start of the 2000/01 season and by the time he lined up for his first attempt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 2002, he had already won the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown and second, beaten just three-quarters of a length, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Sent off 7/1 second favourite behind defending champion Looks Like Trouble, he quickened to lead approaching the final fence and ran on well to beat Commanche Court by 1¾ lengths. He completed a notable double when easily beating Truckers Tavern by 10 lengths in 2003 and, although he had to work harder in 2004, his half a length win over Sir Rembrandt was enough to earn his place in Cheltenham folklore.