Racing Memories: Desert Orchid 1989 Gold Cup


For those alive in the 1980′s and have never heard of Desert Orchid you need to have words with your parents about being locked in the cellar for so long!!

Desert Orchid as a famous racehorse very nearly didn’t happen after a terrible fall on his first run over hurdles. I remember the race, and a thought the poor horse was done for, luckily he eventually got to his feet and history started to be written for what turned out to be a once in a lifetime horse.

He won decent hurdles by taking the Tolworth Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle, but it was when he went chasing in the 1984/85 season that he really started to show his class. He proved to be one of the toughest horses that decade, and David Elsworth, his trainer, worked wonders with the horse.

Dessie, as he was known, captured the hearts of the nation, and being a grey was easily recognised, seldom running a bad race at the top level, and won me a fair bit of money back then, although I wasn’t a pro-gambler in those days. I specifically remember the day he fell at Aintree as I’d had my biggest bet ever on a horse at that time! Ouch! Still, I made more than I won, as he was as reliable as the likes of Kauto Star.

As Dessie was well known as a 2 miler, it was amazing how he battled up the hill to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. The ground was boggy which made it even more of a stayers race. The cheers from the crowd made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

Dessie’s best efforts though came on Boxing Day when he won the King George VI Chase FOUR times!! Christmas Day became useless as racing enthusiasts waited each year to see Dessie on Boxing Day. This record has only just been broken by another top class public loved chaser, Kauto Star.

One thing that always stood out with Dessie was not only his toughness, but the fact in so many races he was carrying a lot of weight. Rarely do we see that these days, although in the last few years we have started to see the odd class horse running in handicaps.

During his retirement he done a lot for charity as well as opening bookmakers, shops, etc, so was never really out of the public eye.

Dessie passed away of old age in 2006, having lived a well loved and fantastic life. His ashes are buried at Kempton near his statue, and if you are ever there, pay his grave a visit.