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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 12:00 GMT
Mate jumps to historic hat-trick
By Sophie Brown

Best Mate and Jim Culloty after their third Cheltenham Gold Cup success
Horse racing in 2004 did what it said on the tin, with the Flat season pretty much that while the jumping campaign leapt to great heights.

Best Mate became the first horse since Arkle almost 40 years ago to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups.

A brave and hard-working effort, it was the least convincing but most soul-stirring of his three wins.

But for a sheer fairytale, that was beaten two weeks later as Amberleigh House claimed the Grand National.

The horse comes from the small stable of Ginger McCain, who was also responsible for Red Rum's Aintree treble three decades ago, and who is now only the second trainer to win four Grand Nationals.

It was the second heart-warming tale of this year's Aintree meeting, following jockey Carrie Ford's success on Forest Gunner in the 'Amateurs' National', just 10 weeks after giving birth.

Meanwhile, the Martin Pipe-Tony McCoy team maintained their iron grip on the trainer and jockey championships.

Their domination could well continue but not together as McCoy unexpectedly announced that he was to become Jonjo O'Neill's stable jockey for the 2004-2005 season.

Another jumping institution preparing for change is the Cheltenham Festival, which was held in its three-day format for the last time before being extended to four days from 2005.

Best Mate is likely to be favourite for a fourth Gold Cup win, but his reputation was dented when losing to Beef or Salmon towards the end of 2004.

Another Irish rival, Kicking King, may also contest the big race after surviving a last-fence blunder to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Flat racing's major meeting was not exempt from change either - the top hats were doffed in a (temporary) farewell to Royal Ascot, which will be staged at York next year while the Berkshire course undergoes a 185m revamp.

Before the bulldozers moved in, the first-place sign in the winner's enclosure was awarded to Frankie Dettori, for whom the place has become a second home.

And it was the bubbly Italian who put some much-needed fizz into the 2004 Flat season, clinching his third jockey's title, nine eventful years after his second.

In doing so, he ended Kieren Fallon's stranglehold on the title and compounded a miserable year for the six-time champion.

Fallon enjoyed an Oaks-Derby double with Ouija Board (on whom he also triumphed in the Irish Oaks and at the Breeders' Cup) and North Light.

But off the track, he had a wretched time culminating in his arrest and bail as part of an ongoing police investigation into alleged race-fixing and a Jockey Club disrepute hearing, which is still to be heard.

Dettori's principal employers Godolphin were also successful in the owner's and trainer's championships.

Frankie Dettori

But it was not a good season for their great rivals Coolmore, with Aidan O'Brien not firing on the big winners' front and stable jockey Jamie Spencer enjoying mixed fortunes in his first season with the Balldoyle team.

Ouija Board was arguably the equine star of the 2004 season but another filly, Attraction, gathered four Group One wins, including the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas.

The controversy over betting exchanges deepened but there were signs that the Jockey Club is equipping itself better to combat future wrongdoing in the sport.

And the British Horseracing Board and the Office of Fair Trading reached agreement over competition issues that had threatened the sport's future.

Racing did its fair share of mourning this year with the deaths of owner-breeder Robert Sangster, racecourse owner Sir Stanley Clarke, former jumps trainers Fred Winter and Jimmy FitzGerald, and Flat trainer Alec Stewart.

And the sport lost one of its best servants when 11-year-old Persian Punch collapsed and died after a race at Ascot.

Toby Balding called time on his 48-year training career while Grand National-winning trainer Nick Gaselee retired and Josh Gifford and Mary Reveley both handed over control of their yards to their sons.

Meanwhile, rider retirements included Flat jockey Willie Ryan and jump riders Liam Cooper and Thierry Doumen.

Best Mate trainer Henrietta Knight on Gold Cup glory

Trainer Ginger McCain on winning the Grand National



Highlights of 2004


Best and worst of 2004

Dettori crowned champion jockey
06 Nov 04 |  Horse Racing
Balding bows out as trainer
06 Nov 04 |  Horse Racing
Ouija Board grabs big US victory
30 Oct 04 |  Horse Racing
Six more arrests in fixing probe
28 Oct 04 |  Horse Racing
Attraction back on top
02 Oct 04 |  Horse Racing
Attraction takes Ascot win
18 Jun 04 |  Horse Racing
McCoy and Pipe split
29 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing
Persian Punch dies at Ascot
28 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing
Gifford calls it a day
24 Apr 03 |  Horse Racing
Owner Sangster dies
08 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing
Racing mourns Winter
05 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing
Amberleigh wins National
03 Apr 04 |  Horse Racing
Best Mate makes history
18 Mar 04 |  Horse Racing

ALSO IN THIS SECTION Aintree fences 'should be bigger'
1m offered for Frankel v Caviar
Sir Alex in Scottish National bid
Monterosso wins Dubai World Cup

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