Bought as a surprise 50th birthday present for a first-time racehorse owner, Sire de Grugy provided one of the feel-good stories of the Cheltenham Festival by winning the high-profile Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The popular victory delighted two families who came together in unusual circumstances four years ago and agreed to take a punt on a horse who has matured to be one of Britain’s best chasers.
In 2010, friends and family members of Steve Preston, a businessman from the north of England, clubbed together and deposited STG2000 ($A3,723) in a bank account set up in the racing enthusiast’s name. There was a caveat – the money had to go toward buying a race horse.
Preston spoke to a number of prospective trainers about helping him find a horse and eventually struck a deal with Gary Moore who ran a small operation near where Preston used to live in the south of the country. Moore discovered Sire de Grugy in France and convinced Preston and three of his friends to up the budget to about STG35,000.
Four years later, Preston was at Cheltenham to see Sire de Grugy romp to victory under jockey Jamie Moore, the son of the trainer, and take his earnings to more than STG500,000 pounds.
“It is a success story,” Preston said, “but it is unbelievable so it is fantastic.”
Racing in the red-and-blue colours of his owners’ favourite football team Crystal Palace, Sire de Grugy was given a patient ride by Jamie Moore before moving into contention after jumping the second-to-last fence. He ran clear of Somersby (14-1) in the sprint to the line to win by six lengths.
Sire de Grugy now has won Britain’s three biggest two-mile (3200m) races this season, following up impressive victories in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Clarence House at Ascot. And he has filled the void left by the injury to Sprinter Sacre, Britain’s leading jump horse who wasn’t able to defend his Queen Mother title because of a heart problem.
“The horse hasn’t been given any credit this season,” Jamie Moore said. He has proved today, at a track he hates and on ground he does not like, what a good horse he is.”
Earlier, the combination of jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins claimed their third victory of the festival when Faugheen cruised to victory in the Novices’ Hurdle.
Champion jockey AP McCoy was denied a first win of the week when his horse, Get Me Out Of Here, lost a photo finish to Whisper (14-1) in the Coral Cup.
Jockey Bryan Cooper was hospitalised after breaking two bones in his leg after a fall in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.