Who's the best Jumps horse that you've seen live?

Denman is one of the greatest staying chasers to grace the racecourse this century.
Denman is one of the greatest staying chasers to grace the racecourse this century.

Having received some interesting results after posing the question to our 75,000 Twitter followers, Nick Seddon looks back on the best National Hunt horses or performances that he’s seen live on a racecourse during his lifetime…

With there being such a dearth of live sport at the moment, it seems only natural for us to look back on what we’ve seen during our lifetimes, and when we do indeed look back, the inevitable questions about identifying the greatest performers of all-time always seem to pop up across each and every sport. 

This rings particularly true in football, and we could be here all day debating whether Lionel Messi is truly better than Cristiano Ronaldo. However, if you flip the argument so that it concerns only players that you’ve been lucky enough to see play in the flesh, it becomes an interesting topic if like me you’re burdened with a club at the same sort of calibre of Wigan Athletic.

You’re forced to look past the greatest and the best, and instead concentrate on performances or goals which stick in your memory for one reason or another. It’s an interesting conundrum, and one that’s easily applied to horse racing, as the sheer amount of meetings on offer means that it simply just isn’t possible to see every star on every single occasion that you visit the track. 

Indeed, it may not be for a want of trying, but factors like location can be a burden; particularly for instance if like me you live in the North of England - meaning it’s near impossible to get yourself to Kempton Park on Boxing Day without committing to a long drive. 

With that in mind, I’ve looked back on six different Jumps divisions, and picked out the best horse or performance that I’ve seen in the flesh for each. Don’t agree with the list? Feel free to get in touch with us on Twitter and share your views! 

Two-mile hurdler: The New One

We begin with the hurdling division over two miles, which has been spoiled with any number of greats this century - such as Hurricane Fly, Faugheen and Buveur D’Air - however, it is a performance from a ‘bottom topper’ at Haydock which very much sticks in my mind.

The horse in question is The New One, and while it can certainly be argued that he wasn’t the most iconic two-miler of his generation, his talent can’t be disputed, and he proved himself to be the most enjoyable of performers to own for his connections. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star earned over £1 million in prize money from his 40 starts under Rules, winning 20, and one of those victories sticks out in particular; his effort to seal a record fourth straight success in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January 2018.

The New One was very much in the twilight of his career at this point as a 10-year-old, and arrived on the back of a handful of creditable efforts in tough assignments. A lack of grit and determination never proved to be an issue for The New One, though on this occasion it looked as though he had bumped into a rival in the form of the improving Ch’tibello that was too tough to crack. However, despite conceding three years to the Dan Skelton in-mate, The New One dug deep into his stamina reserves having been headed at the last, and battled back to prove just why he was so popular by getting back up in the final strides.

Two-mile chaser: Min

Like with the hurdlers, we've been blessed with some special two-mile chasers since the turn of the century, and each of Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Altior would all be more than entitled to a mention in this particular part of the column.

However, none of the aforementioned three ventured north very often during their respective careers, and instead it was a performance from Altior's great rival Min that sticks in the memory. Now Min has regularly found himself in Altior's shadow during his career, chasing him home on no less than three occasions at the Cheltenham Festival, though he has proven himself to be a top-class performer on his day, with six Grade 1 wins. The finest of those successes arguably came in the Melling Chase at Aintree last year, though with that particular race being held over two and a half miles we'll instead focus on his first top level success in open company - in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February 2018. 

Min arrived at Leopardstown on the back of a shock defeat to the tremendously likeable veteran Simply Ned over the Christmas period, and he re-opposed against that rival while also facing a field which included the reigning champion chaser, Special Tiara. It felt like a defining moment for Min, who had long promised to be a top level chaser but had twice fallen short at the very highest level to that point. However, he would put all doubts to bed here, and soon took control of the race in the closing stages following a patient ride from David Mullins - running out a 12-length victor. It can't be disputed that he would go on to achieve more than he managed in Dublin on this particular afternoon, but it certainly felt like a watershed moment for Min. 

Staying Hurdler - Seeyouatmidnight

This is certainly the most left-field entry of the lot, particularly when I disclose that I witnessed Paisley Park's clear-cut success in the Cleeve Hurdle back in January. However, with his bubble subsequently being burst by no other than Lisnagar Oscar in last month's Stayers' Hurdle, it felt fitting to instead focus on a more heart-warming story.

The horse in question is the Sandy Thomson-trained Seeyouatmidnight, who before proving himself a more than capable staying chaser, enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks as a staying hurdler back in 2014. Returning home as a shock 66/1 winner on debut at Hexham at the beginning of that season, Seeyouatmidnight followed that up with another unlikely success in the Scottish Albert Bartlett Trial at Musselburgh, before pitching up in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.

Pitched against a top level regular in Celestial Halo, Seeyouatmidnight made the best of his way home in tough conditions to register the first of his two career successes at graded level, showing plenty of grit and determination to hold off the attentions of the Henry Daly-trained Mickie in a pulsating finish. Sandy Thomson's star would go on to enjoy plenty of success as a chaser, too, with his finest hour perhaps coming when seeing off Blaklion to win the Grade 2 Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in January 2016. 

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Staying chaser: Denman

I'm lucky enough to have grown up in era that was blessed with remarkable staying chasers, though few were quite as magnificent as the great Denman was in his pomp. Denman was blighted by well-documented heart problems right at his peak, and having dethroned stablemate Kauto Star in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup, he underwent treatment which saw his heart stopped and restarted again in an attempt to fix an irregular heartbeat.

It meant that he returned with a chink in what previously had seemed to be impenetrable armour, and he was beaten in each of his three starts of the 2008-09 season, finishing a more than noble second to Kauto Star when attempting to defend his crown at Cheltenham. However, Denman had one final win up his sleeve, and produced one of the greatest weight-carrying performances ever seen when winning the 2009 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury (now known as the Ladbrokes Trophy) - a race which I was in attendance for. Conceding over a stone to the entire field, Denman gamely saw off the attentions of what subsequently proved to be a top-class field of staying chasers to record his first success since the 2008 Gold Cup, and promptly bring the house down. 

Grand National horse: Many Clouds

Many Clouds wasn't an ordinary Grand National winner, and it was something that he would continuously prove throughout his extraordinary career. Firstly, he carried an eye-watering 11-09 to victory at Aintree - producing the sort of weight-carrying performance that we haven't seen since the great Red Rum himself. Unfortunately, he was unable to emulate Red Rum by winning the Aintree spectacular on more than one occasion, though he again broke out of the mould of a conventional National winner by becoming just the second horse since Bindaree to win a race after scoring at Aintree, doing so in a listed contest at Kelso in March 2016. He was pipped to the post by Pineau De Re for the outright accolade, who who had scored in a handicap hurdle at Carlisle exactly three months earlier, but it still served a purpose of proving just how difficult it is to reinvent yourself after Aintree. 

His finest hour arguably came at the same time as his darkest, when he prevailed in a barnstorming duel with the Gold Cup favourite at the time Thistlecrack in the 2017 Cotswold Chase. Thistlecrack had announced himself a staying chaser to take very seriously when winning the previous month's King George VI Chase at Kempton Park as a novice, though he had never faced a rival with as much heart and determination - nor jumping ability - as Many Clouds. Thistlecrack showed himself to be every inch a top-class chaser that day, but at every fence he found himself matched by Many Clouds, who refused to lie down and asked each and every call from his regular partner Leighton Aspell. 

What followed was a range of emotions you will perhaps never see again on a racecourse. A roar swept round the grandstands as Many Clouds, who was headed on the run-in, battled back in the gutsiest of manners to thwart his rival so heroically – but it was quickly replaced with a palpable silence, as the brave victor suffered a fatal internal bleed moments after crossing the line. He was described as "the horse of a lifetime" by his connections, and bowed out with a trademark performance that ensured he went down as one of the all-time great Grand National winners. 

Mare: Annie Power

As the mares' programme continues to go from strength to strength, we're seeing more and more stars emerge from the fairer sex - something shown by Honeysuckle and Epatante winning the Irish and the English versions of the Champion Hurdle this season, respectively. However, Annie Power is undoubtedly the queen of the bunch, and fresh from winning the 2016 Champion Hurdle, she bowed out with a barnstorming performance to win the Aintree Hurdle at the Grand National meeting a month later. She lined up as a commanding 9/4-on favourite, and in fine conditions made short work of accounting for a six-strong field which included the multiple Grade 1-winner My Tent Or Yours and a subsequent Stayers' Hurdle winner in Nichols Canyon, winning by a whopping 18 lengths. It proved to be the final start of Annie Power's colourful racing career and she is now a broodmare, so far producing foals by Camelot and Galileo.

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