Toby Balding

Toby Balding The late Gerald Balding OBE, universally known as “Toby”, was the elder brother of the Ian Balding, who saddled Mill Reef to win the Derby in 1971, and a highly successful trainer in his own right. In fact, he had the rare distinction of saddling the winner of the three most important races in British National Hunt racing, the Grand National (twice), the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle.

 

Born in the United States, Balding first took out a training licence, while still a teenager, in 1956. His first major success came with Highland Wedding, ridden by Eddie Harty, who won the 1969 Grand National by 12 lengths. Two decades later, Balding repeated the feat with Little Polveir, who won the 1989 renewal of the Aintree marathon by 7 lengths under Jimmy Frost.

 

The previous month, Balding had saddled his first winner of the Champion Hurdle, Beech Road, ridden by Richard Guest, who sprang a major surprise by beating Celtic Shot by 2 lengths at 50/1, with 11/8 favourite Kribensis only seventh of the twelve finishers. His second winner, Morley Street, in 1991, was sent off 4/1 favourite and duly obliged, beating Nomadic Way by 1½ lengths under Jimmy Frost.

 

In 1992, Balding saddled outsider Cool Ground, ridden by his protégé Adrian Maguire, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 25/1. The result was controversial insofar that many observers believed Golden Freeze, the rank outsider at 150/1, was ridden with the deliberate intent of unsettling hot favourite Carvill’s Hill, who eventually finished well beaten.

Albertas Run

Albertas Run Albertas Run may not be as revered as some of the other horses who have enjoyed repeated success at the Cheltenham Festival but is, nevertheless, the only horse to win the Ryanair Chase twice, in 2010 and 2011, and had previously won the Royal & SunAlliance Chase in 2008. He was ridden to all three Festival victories by A.P. McCoy.

Owned by Trevor Hemmings and trained by Jonjo O’Neill, Albertas Run made his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in 2006, finishing fifteenth of 23, beaten 17¾ lengths, behind Hairy Molly in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. After winning four of his five races over hurdles in 2006/07, he was sent over fences the following season and, again, after winning four of his first five starts over the larger obstacles, started 4/1 favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. Aided by the fall of his main market rival, Pomme Tiepy, before halfway, Albertas Run led approaching the final fence and went clear in the closing stages for a comfortable 4½-length win.

Like many second season steeplechasers, Albertas Run struggled to find his form in 2008/09 and failed to win in seven attempts, including trailing in ninth of 16, beaten 48 lengths, behind Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nevertheless, he started the 2009/10 season by winning the 1965 Amlin Chase at Ascot, only to be beaten on his next three starts, which included another drubbing by Kauto Star in the King George VI at Kempton.

However, on his return to Cheltenham, despite starting only eighth choice of the punters, at 14/1, in a field of thirteen, on his first attempt at the Ryanair Chase, Albertas Run was driven to assert approaching two out by A.P. McCoy and stayed on strongly to beat 11/4 favourite Poquelin by 4½ lengths.

Albertas Run returned to Cheltenham to win the Ryanair Chase again in 2011, holding on well to beat Kalahari King by a length, and only gave best in the last 50 yards when going down by half a length to Riverside Theatre on his attempt at a hat-trick in the race in 2012. He tried again in 2013, but was pulled up shortly after halfway in the race won by Cue Card. Nevertheless, his lifetime form figures at the Festival read 010112P and he fully deserves his place on any list of Cheltenham stalwarts.

 

Willie Wumpkins

Willie Wumpkins Willie Wumpkins is one of a select band of horses to have won four times at the Cheltenham Festival, but his record is all the more remarkable for the fact that his first victory was fully eight years before his last. Originally trained in Ireland by Adrian Maxwell and ridden by Pat Colville, Willie Wumpkins opened his Festival account, as a five-year-old, in 1973, winning the Aldworth Hurdle (now the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle) at 11/1.

 

However, it wasn’t until much later in his career, now trained under permit by his owner Mrs. Jane Pilkington, that he returned to Prestbury Park to contest the Coral Golden Hurdle Final (now the Pertemps Network Final) in 1979. Ridden by Mrs. Pilkington’s son-in-law, Mr. Jim Wilson, arguably the best amateur jockey of his day, the 11-year-old revelled in the testing conditions and, despite carrying overweight, won easily at odds of 25/1. The partnership returned for the same race again in 1980 – the year in which Wilson became just the third amateur to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, on Little Owl – and won again, at 10/1. Willie Wumpkins, now 13, and Wilson were back again in 1981, justifying odds of 13/2 to a tremendous reception.

 

Amazingly, Willie Wumpkins never won anything of consequence anywhere other than the Cheltenham Festival; he won just 7 of his 65 races over obstacles, but four of those wins were at the Festival. He enjoyed a happy retirement in the Cotswolds and died in 1995 at the ripe old age of 27.