Brilliant three-time Gold Cup winner Best Mate also proved he could act around Kempton on Boxing Day, landing the 2002 King George VI Chase on his second attempt at the big race for trainer Henrietta Knight and trainer Jim Lewis. Jockey AP McCoy believed that, if he had ridden the horse before, Best Mate would have won the King George the previous year when beaten three-quarters of a length by Florida Pearl.
This time, Best Mate beat Marlborough and was afforded a rapturous reception on his return to the winner’s enclosure. McCoy – who had earlier broken his own record for the fastest 200 winners in a season on Lord Sam – punched the air and said: “This horse will not need to improve to win a second Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.”
The eventual 20-time champion jockey wasn’t wrong there as Best Mate responded with class and guts to his rider’s urgings on rain-softened ground, jumping brilliantly over the final three fences as the Nicky Henderson-trained Marlborough and Bacchanal attacked him all the way up the home straight.
Trainer Henrietta Knight was saddling Edredon Bleu at Wincanton, so her husband and former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe oversaw things at Kempton.
“I’m not sure how much of the race Hen saw,” he said – in reference to Knight not being able to readily watch her horses in action -adding: “She says she saw me on the winners’ rostrum with my arm round a pretty promotional girl!”
He went on: “Hen has done a wonderful job with Best Mate, putting so much work into the horse and looked after him so well.”
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