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.
The simple answer is no, he did not. Martin Pipe, from whom the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival takes its name, was by far the most successful trainer in the history of National Hunt racing. Pipe retired, due ill health, at the age of 60 in April, 2006, but by the end of his career had saddled 4,180 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship fifteen times, including ten years running between 1996 and 2005.
Pipe saddled a total of 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival but, while he won the Champion Hurdle twice, with Granville Again in 1993 and Make A Stand in 1997, the closest he came to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup was with Rushing Wild, ridden by Richard Dunwoody, who finished a 2-length second to Jodami in 1993. His other runners that year, Run For Free, ridden by Mark Perrett, and Chatham, ridden by Peter Scudamore, finished eighth and eleventh, respectively.