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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 12:18 GMT
Racing legend Desert Orchid dies
Desert Orchid
Desert Orchid won over 650,000 in prize money in his career
Legendary racehorse Desert Orchid has died at the age of 27.

The gallant grey achieved iconic status within National Hunt racing, where he was much loved by supporters for his iron will and extreme versatility.

He won 34 races in total, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and seven at his beloved Kempton, where he won the King George VI Chase a record four times.

Former trainer David Elsworth said the horse, nicknamed "Dessie", died peacefully in his stable on Monday.

Elsworth added: "There was no stress, he departed from this world with dignity and no fuss.

"He did his dying in the same individual way that he did his living. It was time to go."

Desert Orchid was famed for his flamboyant front-running performances and breathtaking jumping.

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His most famous victory came in 1989 when he overcame his Cheltenham hoodoo for an emotional triumph.

Despite disliking left-handed tracks and with snow falling on the undulating Gloucestershire course, he beat the mud-loving Yahoo to delight a crowd of nearly 60,000 cheering spectators.

He landed jump racing's Christmas showpiece, the King George, four times between 1986 and 1990, and was retired in 1991.

In his advancing years, Desert Orchid became a distinguished figure as his grey coat grew whiter, and he was warmly cheered when paraded before big races.

He was named the second favourite racehorse of all-time, behind Arkle and ahead of Red Rum, in a poll of Racing Post readers in 2004, with his Gold Cup win voted their favourite ever race.

And he was so popular, he would receive hundreds of birthday and Christmas cards. A stack of mints, carrots, biscuits and even cake were among countless presents delivered to his stable.

DESERT ORCHID 1979-2006
Desert Orchid
Foaled: 21 April, 1979
Died: 13 November 2006
Owners: Richard/Midge Burridge
Trainer: David Elsworth
Career: Races 70. Wins 34

Key victories:
King George VI Chase: 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990
Cheltenham Gold Cup: 1989
Irish Grand National: 1990
Whitbread Gold Cup: 1988
"He was 27 years old and we had been involved with this wonderful horse for a quarter of a century both in his racing days and retirement," said Elsworth.

"Everybody will miss him and our sympathy goes to his adoring public and fan club that never ceased to take opportunities to see him at his public appearances."

Desert Orchid died in his stable at 6.05 GMT on Monday. His co-owner Richard Burridge and former stable lass Janice Coyle had visited him the previous day.

Newmarket-based Elsworth said: "Desert Orchid will be laid to rest at Kempton Park near his statue where many of his most memorable triumphs took place."

The course has already named a race after him, which will be run for the first time on 27 December.

Simon Sherwood, who was on board Desert Orchid when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was among those to pay tribute.

"He was brave, tough, intelligent and totally honest," said Sherwood, who also won the King George twice and Whitbread Gold Cup.

"He remained at the top level for a long period of time, doing it the hard way from the front.

"Without doubt he could have won three or four Gold Cups if Cheltenham had been right-handed."

I think his fans thought he was immortal
Midge Burridge, Desert Orchid's co-owner
Former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody rode Desert Orchid to two King George wins and victory in the Irish Grand National.

"He was a fantastic horse to ride and without doubt the best horse I ever rode in my entire career," said Dunwoody.

Co-owner Midge Burridge said his death would be felt by thousands of fans around the globe.

"They all absolutely adored him. It is going to be terribly sad for all of them," he said.

"Some of them are quite elderly people and I think they thought he was immortal."

Former jockey Colin Brown, who rode the horse in his early races, told BBC Five Live: "He was just a great character, who never knew when he was beaten, and never had an injury until he retired.

"He was a great jumper, who had guts like a lion. You could ride him like you were driving a car, and just ask him to go faster or slower."



SEE ALSO
Desert Orchid photos
13 Nov 06 |  Horse Racing
Obituary: Desert Orchid
13 Nov 06 |  Horse Racing
Dessie celebrates 27th birthday
21 Apr 06 |  Horse Racing
Racing's firm favourites
20 Feb 04 |  Horse Racing
Six of the Gold Cup best
12 Mar 04 |  Horse Racing
Crowning glories of great race
16 Dec 02 |  Horse Racing


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