LORD WINDERMERE survived a stewards’ inquiry to win a hugely dramatic Betfred Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Jim Culloty-trained eightyear- old, a 20-1 outsider, shocked the big guns of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conte to beat Own His Own by a short-head in National Hunt racing’s premier contest.
Lord Windermere came from a long way back to climb the hill in full flight, but the result was in doubt as jockey Davy Russell had to plead his case in the stewards’ room.
The gelding appeared to veer into Own His Own, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by David Casey, as the race reached its climax but the places were left unaltered.
A delighted Russell said: “I can’t believe it. I was never on the bridle.
“I was never in the race.The whole field was in front of me for the whole race. I had to sit and suffer the whole way.”
Added the delighted jockey: “I was on the best horse in the race.
He was very idle, like he was last year. Silviniaco Conti veered over and startled him a little bit.
“I wanted to do the right thing for the horse. I couldn’t ride a winner for Jim all year, but he kept saying to me ‘wait for Cheltenham’.”
The race went off nearly 15 minutes late after two aborted starts and a delay in starting the earlier Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Silviniaco Conte, unlucky 12 months ago when falling at the third last, cruised into the lead at the same point this time and, with defending champion Bobs Worth tracking, it looked set for a sensational duel as the pair approaching the final fence.
But both were swamped as Lord Windermere, Own His Own and The Giant Bolster swept past on their outside.
It was Lord Windermere who got up and Culloty, who has joined a rare group to have trained and ridden a Gold Cup winner following his victories on board Best Mate, said waiting for the result of the inquiry was “the worst few minutes of my life”.
“This was so unbelievable that I almost expected to lose,” he explained.
“He won the RSA last year and the obvious thing was to come to the Gold Cup this time.
“I’d told Davy Russell to take his time but half-way round I wondered what he was doing - I wanted to sack him.“I told him to take his time and ride the horse to get a place but he exaggerated the waiting tactics a bit too much.
“We’d just said to drop in and take his time and not to panic.”
Mullins, meanwhile, indicated he may still appeal against thestewards’ verdict. “I’ll have a chat with the owners and see what they want to do.
“I’ll have a chat with David and see what he wants to do.
“I’ll have a chat with people who are wiser than me and see what they think and then we’ll make a decision about an appeal.
“It’s a nice prize to win, but it’s probably not ideal to win it in the stewards’ room.
“Coming here this morning, I can’t believe I would have felt disappointed by finishing second.”