Who trained Desert Orchid?
Desert Orchid was an immensely popular grey – in fact, towards the end of his career, almost white – horse, who won 34 of his 70 starts over hurdles and fences and remains the sixth highest-rated steeplechaser in the history of Timeform. He was trained, throughout his career, by David Elsworth, who first took out a training licence in his own right in 1978. At the peak of his powers, Elsworth had 143 horses in his yard at Whitsbury Manor Stables, near Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
Elsworth won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship just once, in 1987/88, but nonetheless saddled Desert Orchid to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 and the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in 1990. However, the defining moment for horse and trainer came at Cheltenham on March 16, 1989.
Despite being better going right-handed – a stone better, according to jockey Simon Sherwood – and unsuited by the prevailing heavy going, Desert Orchid was still sent off 5/2 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Adopting his usual bold, front-running style, he made most of the running until the second-last fence, but came under pressure and looked beaten when tackled by confirmed mudlark Yahoo on the run to the final fence. However, Desert Orchid rallied gamely, forged ahead on the run-in to win by 1½ lengths.