Trainer Gordon Elliott has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds Don Cossack and that long-term faith has been gloriously justified in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The quietly-spoken Irishman stood in the hallowed Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure in a state of disbelief and with a tear in his eye after seeing Don Cossack claim the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing.
Already a four-time Grade One winner, the nine-year-old was the well-supported 9-4 favourite in the hands of Bryan Cooper.
Positioned close to the pace throughout, Don Cossack fenced fluently and travelled beautifully to remain in contention with half a mile to run.
Last year’s runner-up Djakadam moved through the 3-1/4-mile (5200m) feature with similar dash, but he had no answer when Don Cossack kicked at the home turn and he devoured the final two fences to seal victory by 4-1/2 lengths.
“I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. To be honest, I need to look at the race again – I was so nervous all the way around. That was something special,” Elliott said.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life.
“It means so much to me to win a Gold Cup. It’s brilliant.”
Three years on from hitting the headlines with a Festival hat-trick, Cooper is now firmly established among the sport’s elite jockeys, despite being just 23.
“I can’t believe that’s happened. It was over so quick,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe I was going that easy turning for home. He went to go round again at the bend after the last. He galloped the whole way to the line.
“Don Cossack has beaten what’s been put in front of him and that’s all he can do.
“He’s the best I’ve ever sat on.”
Cooper spent many weeks deliberating whether to ride Don Cossack or Don Poli, who finished third.
The wait for a first Gold Cup goes on for the all-conquering Willie Mullins, trainer of both Djakadam and Don Poli.
“We have no excuses,” Mullins said.
“Djakadam had every chance from the fifth-last home and jumped as clearly as he could.
“He was beaten by a better horse so congratulations to all the connections of the winner.”
“It’s tough to finish second twice with Djakadam, and it is going to be tough now for him to win one.”