Great racehorses continue to provide vivid memories. Many fine horses from this period are now celebrated in bronze. With a third successive victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2004, ridden as usual by jockey Jim Culloty, Best Mate joined Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle in an elite group of three-time winners. Supremely consistent, Best Mate won 14 times from 22 starts and never fell. He became one of the nation’s best-loved horses.
Withdrawn from the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup with a burst blood vessel just days before the race, Best Mate’s return was at Exeter in November. There, in front of the packed stands, the ten-year old pulled up in clear distress, stumbled to his knees and died of a heart attack. First on the scene was his trainer, Henrietta Knight, who knew immediately what had happened. It was dramatic, poignant and headline news.
In 2008 a life-size statue was commissioned from leading equine sculptor Philip Blacker. It shows Best Mate peacefully and happily grazing. It stands, as intended, on the village green at Lockinge, not far from Henrietta Knight’s Oxfordshire stables. Another version of the same statue was unveiled at Cheltenham where Best Mate’s record, as well as statue, stands alongside those of Golden Miller and Arkle. It is, though, in this peaceful country setting of Lockinge that this warm, beautiful sculpture seems at home.