The Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards, and 22 notoriously stiff fences, at Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire, is the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival, staged annually in March. The race was first staged, in its current guise, in 1924 and, while it is not the most valuable steeplechase run in Britain – that distinction belongs, by a fair margin, to the Grand National – it is, in fact, the most valuable conditions, or non-handicap, steeplechase. In 2019, total prize money for the Cheltenham Gold Cup was £625,000, with the winner receiving £351,688.

The Gold Cup, run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 210 yards, and no obstacles at all, at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, is similarly the highlight of Royal Ascot week, staged annually in June. The Gold Cup is, far and away, the older of the two races, having been staged for the first time, in the presence of King George III – he of ‘madness’ fame – in 1807. Nowadays, the race is the most prestigious event in Britain and, arguably, in the world, for horses that specialise in racing over long distances, otherwise known as ‘stayers’. Prestigious though it may be, in 2018, total prize money for the Gold Cup was ‘just’ £500,000, with the winning receiving £283,550; when compared with the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Gold Cup is actually one race that gives lie to the often-repeated claim that National Hunt racing is the ‘poor relation’ of Flat racing.

The flamboyant grey Desert Orchid is best remembered for his career as a steeplechaser, during which he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 1989, and the King George VI Chase four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990. However, ‘Dessie’ also enjoyed a brilliant hurdling career and first caught public attention with his meteoric rise through the ranks in his novice season over the small obstacles in 1983/84.

In that season, Desert Orchid won six of his eight starts, including the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January and the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February. He made his debut at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Hurdle, for which, despite still being a novice, he was sent at just 7/1; he failed to make much of an impact, though, fading from the second-last flight of hurdles to finish down the field behind Dawn Run.

The 1984/85 season was more of a struggle for Desert Orchid and he won just once, in the Listed Oteley Hurdle, now the Contenders Hurdle, at Sandown in January. Nevertheless, he took his place in Champion Hurdle once again but, having chased the frenetic pace set by Northern Trial, weakened quickly as the field approached the top of the hill and was pulled up before three out in the race eventually won by See You Then. So, while Desert Orchid did twice contest the Champion Hurdle, he never did win it.