A race which pitted old against new, put undefeated Cheltenham records on the line, and one that tantalised the taste buds during a somewhat 'transitional period' for the Gold Cup generations, this year's renewal provided the perfect finish as Bob's Worth powered to victory for Nicky Henderson and jockey, Barry Geraghty.
Victorious in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November, Bob's Worth had not been seen in a race since that seasonal reappearance. To many, the decision by Nicky Henderson to send last season's Champion Three Mile Novice into battle with just one run under his belt was a brave decision, one that many trainers would not have been brave enough to attempt, yet the decision to skip alternative arrangements overseas and opt for a racecourse gallop at Kempton Park as part of his final preparations proved fruitful as Bob's Worth sauntered to victory on the wide outside of his rivals for a seven length success.
Introduced to the Cheltenham masses as a novice hurdler on New Year's Day in 2011, Bob's Worth had returned to Cheltenham no fewer than three further times since that New Year's Day outing, winning all three contests, two of which were of the highest rating - a Grade 1. Under the non-stop lashing of precipitation on a bitterly cold day at the foot of Cleeve Hill, Friday would see Bob's Worth defend his unbeaten Cheltenham record and add a further victory to that ever-growing tally.
This test proved to be Bob's Worth's toughest visit to Cheltenham. In ground conditions which had devoured the constant precipitation from the heavens above, Bob's Worth was towed along, like the rest of his rivals, by the exuberant, enthusiastic leading jumps of the one-time Gold Cup hero, Long Run. Sat towards the tail of the field, Bob's Worth seemingly looked to be struggling with a circuit to go as his stablemate Long Run run pulled out one exuberant jump after another with Silvinaco Conti, the 'new kid on the block' from the Paul Nicholls stable, traveling ominously well tracking the leaders.
As the runners came towards the final series of fences exiting the back stretch, an unexpected blip in the jumping of Silviniaco Conti proved fatal to his chances of Gold Cup glory. Whilst horse and jockey got straight back up from their unfortunate meeting with one of Cheltenham's testing fences, the uncharacteristic blip in the jumping of Nicholls' star would put any aspirations of Gold Cup victory on hold for yet another year.
Behind the fall, Bob's Worth was temporarily hampered, forced to check and maneuvre around the fallen rival, yet this seemed to be a vital moment in the attempt at Gold Cup glory for Henderson's star. Seemingly allowing his stablemate Long Run to gain momentum and gallop further clear with the likes of Sir Des Champs and Silviniaco Conti towing their way into the race, the requirement to manoeuvre around Silviniaco Conti seemed to remind Bob's Worth of his job, of his ability, and of his chances of Gold Cup glory.
The realisation of his job had reignited in the mind of Bob's Worth, who slowly began to claw his rivals back towards him on 'his track'. As Sir Des Champs attacked to the outside of Long Run with just two fences to go, the camera panned round, Bob's Worth was there, he was looming and looked to be tanking along.
As the final fence was jumped, Bob's Worth was upsides his Irish rival, Sir Des Champs, and the British Champion jockey AP McCoy, Geraghty pushed go, asking Bob's Worth whether he wanted to etch his name into the history books and into Cheltenham folklore, and the eight year old son of Bob Back duly responded with an almighty acceptance that his time had come.
"He just struggled on the soft ground for most of the way," said Geraghty, whom was winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the second time, "After a mile I knew he wasn't happy so I started trying to conserve his energy and save a bit. From there I took my time an just chased him along quietly."
"I thought I was beaten with five or six to jump, but he ran on down the hill and jumped the third-last well and from there I just held him together. He's not overly big and ideally he wants better ground because it was hard for him. He showed a lot of pace when he worked at Kempton, which was a reminder of what he can do, and I knew I had to delay my challenge and not be in a panic."
Now the winner of a Cheltenham Gold Cup, RSA Chase, Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle amongst two other graded victories at the track, Bob's Worth exits his season unbeaten and unblemished, leaving Nicky Henderson and his team dreaming of further Cheltenham Gold Cup glories with the gelding bought for a tiny sum of £20,000 from jockey Barry Geraghty, whom himself had acquired the gelding for the small sum of 16,000 euros at the sales.
At the tender age of eight years old, the belief that this may just be the beginning of an exceptional journey for Bob's Worth is high.
Bob's Worth will begin his summer holiday as the 3-1 favourite to successfully defend his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown at the 2014 Festival.
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)