The Honourable Dorothy Paget, who died from heart failure, at the age of 54, in 1960, had many claims to fame, not least that she was, at one time, the richest unmarried woman in England. However, from a Cheltenham Festival perspective, she owned seven winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, making her the leading owner in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, and four winners of the Champion Hurdle.
In 1931, Paget was persuaded by trainer Basil Briscoe to purchase two geldings, Golden Miller and Insurance, for a reputed £12,000 – over £800,000 by modern standards – from the late Philip Carr. The money proved well spent, with Golden Miller winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup five years running between 1932 and 1936 and Insurance winning the Champion Hurdle in both 1932 and 1933. In 1934, as a seven-year-old, ‘The Miller’ also won the Grand National and remains the only horse to have won the two premier steeplechases in the British National Hunt calendar in the same season.
In 1940, Paget completed the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double, courtesy of Solford and Roman Hackle, both of whom were trained by Owen Anthony. In 1946, she won the Champion Hurdle again, with Distel, trained by Charles Rogers and, in 1952, her seventh and final Cheltenham Gold Cup with Mont Tremblant, trained by Fulke Walwyn. Walwyn saddled no fewer than 365 winners for Paget, but even he found the eccentric, richly difficult heiress ‘so trying’; on one famous occasion, after Walwyn had sent out Paget-owned horses to win the first five races on a six-race card at Folkestonem, Paget abused the revered trainer for failing to win the sixth race.
Irish businessman Philip Reynolds is, in fact, the son of the late Albert Reynolds, who served as Taoiseach of Ireland between 1992 and 1994, and freely admits to having inherited his love of horse racing from his father. Reynolds Jnr. has owned racehorses since the Eighties, but what has been described as his “overnight 20-year success story” only came to fruition in 2016, when Mall Dini became his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival.
Trained by Patrick Kelly, in Craughwell, Co. Galway and ridden by Davy Russell, Mall Dini had won comfortably won a maiden hurdle at Thurles the previous December, but, after three subsequent defeats in handicap company, was set off an unheralded 14/1 chance for the Pertemps Network Final. Nevertheless, the six-year-old made headway from midfield approaching the second last flight and, despite hanging left in the closing stages, stayed on strongly up the hill to win by three-quarters of a length. An incredulous, but nonetheless triumphant, Reynolds said afterward, “I’ve wanted to do this all my life. I can go now.”
Lo and behold, though, twelve months later Reynolds’ green and white silks were in the winners’ enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival again, this time courtesy of Presenting Percy, also in the Pertemps Network Final. Trained, once again, by Patrick Kelly – whom Reynolds describes as a ‘genius’ – and ridden, once again, by Davy Russell, Presenting Percy stayed on strongly in the closing stages to win by 3¼ lengths.
Presenting Percy returned to Cheltenham for the Festival in 2018 and, after making a successful transition to fences, justified favouritism in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, jumping and travelling well throughout to win by 7 lengths. Described by Reynolds as a ‘very special horse’, Presenting Percy has yet to make his seasonal reappearance in 2018/19, but is ante post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so the story may yet continue.
Between 2000/01 and 2007/08, Warwickshire-based engineer Roger Stephen Brookhouse was a moderately successful permit holder in his own right but, more recently, has found fame as a high-profile National Hunt owner on both sides of the Irish Sea. As far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, Brookhouse finally broke his duck when the talented, but fragile, Cheltenian won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2011.
Trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, Cheltenian was ridden clear in the closing stages to win by 5 lengths at odds of 14/1. Cheltenian ran at the next four Cheltenham Festivals, but failed to trouble the judge in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle three times, including when favourite in 2014. In fact, despite a promising start to his career, Cheltenian won just twice over hurdles, a lowly maiden event at Uttoxeter, at odds of 2/7, in 2013 and the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr two years later.
Indeed, it was a few years before Brookhouse saw his light blue and pink silks carried to victory at the Cheltenham Festival again. In 2014, though, former point-to-point winner Western Warhorse, who was having just his second run over regulation fences, gamely beat Champagne Fever – who was chasing a Festival hat-trick, after winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2012 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2013 – in the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore, Western Warhorse produced a strong run from the final fence to wear down the leader in the final hundred yards and led in the last stride for a shock 33/1 victory.
More recently – in fact, as recently as 2018 – Brookhouse enjoyed further Cheltenham Festival success when Summerville Boy, trained by Tom George and ridden by Noel Fehily, won the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Summerville Boy had already beaten the eventual runner-up, Kalashnikov, by 4 lengths in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on his previous start in January, but had to call on all his resources to win by a neck, on identical terms, at Cheltenham.