Jumping duels: Five of the best National Hunt rivalries
Kauto Star and Denman had one of racing's most high-profile rivalries
PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos) Five of the greatest National Hunt rivalries By Tom Collins & Keith Melrose 4.15pM 20 DEC 2016
WITH stablemates Cue Card and Thistlecrack poised to take each other on in one of the most anticipated head-to-heads in recent seasons, we look back on some of the other great National Hunt rivalries.
2015 World Series Hurdle
Hurricane Fly v Jezki
The winner of 26 races under rules, Hurricane Fly, lined up in this Punchestown Grade 1 on the back of a creditable third in the Champion Hurdle to Faugheen and was expected to enter the winners' enclosure again – going off as the 6-4 favourite.
Entering the paddock before the race, he received a warm round of applause from the crowd who were blissfully awaiting him to show his magic once more. However, it was never going to be plain sailing as connections of the Willie Mullins-trained superstar knew that whenever Hurricane Fly was entered in a race, the likelihood is that his old rival Jezki would be in there too, and this race wasn't any different.
The two foes dominated the market (Jezki 5-2, 7-1 bar), and that was reflected during the race as they quickened clear of a good field after the second last and battled it out towards the line. On this occasion, Jessica Harrington's son of Milan, who was so often the bridesmaid to Hurricane Fly, overhauled him with a superior turn of foot and ran out a length and three quarter winner.
Mullins added: "They both turned for home with a chance but it was Jezki's turn today." Harrington added: "He's an amazing horse to have."
2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Kauto Star v Denman
Paul Nicholls pitched his two star chasers into action as Kauto Star and Denman dominated the market in a top-class contest. Coming into the race with official ratings of 193 and 182 respectively, the pair were set to dominate and the build-up to the race indicated exactly that.
After two similarly hyped renewals in the preceding two years, won bloodlessly by Denman and then Kauto Star with the other off-colour in turn, affection and anticipation was doubled-down on in 2010. Racing fans chose sides, virtually to the exclusion of the other nine runners in the race.
However, both of the champions failed to shine as Kauto Star made a number of mistakes on his way round before crashing out at the fifth last when ridden to close on the leaders, while Denman could only finish an ever increasing seven-length second to the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Imperial Commander after getting tired up the hill.
Twiston-Davies said: "I loved all the Kauto Star-Denman thing but I always thought we could beat them."
1995 Melling Chase
Viking Flagship v Deep Sensation
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Viking Flagship and Deep Sensation rarely had it to themselves in a period when thrilling 2m chases were wonderfully common, but their last meeting on the latter's final start was a perfect way to frame their rivalry.
The two had met five times before and the second, a three-way go with Travado in the 1994 Champion Chase, had itself been a superb spectactle. Viking Flagship had got the better of it that day, as he would every time he faced Deep Sensation, who had nonetheless won a Champion Chase before his nemesis graduated from novice company.
In the Melling Chase, their first meeting over further than 2m, Norman Williamson waited as long as he dared on the strong-travelling Deep Sensation, who in both Cheltenham meetings with Viking Flagship had looked the likelier winner at the foot of the hill.
If this final clash proved nothing else, it was that guts more than stamina had got Viking Flagship home in front all those times before. Adrian Maguire, cap seemingly as ever flailing in the breeze, drove him to regain the lead just strides from the line. A fitting epitaph to a fine rivalry.
Monksfield and Sea Pigeon fought out the finish to four Champion Hurdles
PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
1978 Champion Hurdle
Monksfield v Sea Pigeon v Night Nurse
The flip side of youth's arrogance is age's smugness. In 2011, a generation marvelled at the sight of Kauto Star, Denman and Long Run jumping two out together in the Gold Cup. Their elders had seen it all before, more than once.
Monksfield, Sea Pigeon and Night Nurse, the three biggest names from what has come to be known as the golden age of hurdling, all peaked at various points in the late-'70s and early-'80s. It is arguable that their very best did not overlap, but the stars came closest for the 1978 Champion Hurdle.
Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon were both trained by Peter Easterby and in '78 it was the two-time defending champion Night Nurse that carried the weight of expectation and the field to two out, where the three big players all came up together.
However, he could not live with the younger Monksfield and stablemate Sea Pigeon, the former, trained by Des McDonogh in Ireland, coming home clear under Tommy Kinane.
Monksfield would emulate Night Nurse, who subsequently went chasing, by defending his title in 1979, before Sea Pigeon wrested the title from him in 1980 and also made a successful defence the next year. Any one of them could have become Champion Hurdler several times over, but the neat spread of two apiece in six years gives a satisfying historical symmetry to their intertwined careers.
Arkle launched his legend by defeating champion Mill House at Cheltenham
PICTURE: Gerry Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Mill House v Arkle
The race that John and Heather Snook will be hoping to channel on Monday. Mill House, the established champion, was trusted by punters and backed into 8-13 from 4-5 in the ring to take a second Gold Cup, which that year had attracted just four runners.
Mill House had only one serious rival, the young Irish chaser Arkle, who had been third in the Hennessy he had won the previous winter. Willie Robinson on Mill House rode aggressively, setting what proved to be a course-record pace in trying to tease errors from the less experienced Arkle.
The only sign of that came when Arkle jumped three out slowly, but he was within a length by the next. Commentator Peter O'Sullevan dropped the flag on a coming classic with a dramatic "and this is it," but no sooner had the words left his lips than Arkle swept by. He went on to win by five lengths.
There was of course so much more to come from Arkle, with Mill House forced to watch much of it from the worst seat in the house. It took a horse of a generation to put such a brilliant chaser into the shade. Thistlecrack's task in the King George will be easier, but not by an awful lot.
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