Don Cossack: a big horse with a huge reputation
PICTURE: Alain Barr (racingpost.com/photos)
By David Jennings 9:09AM 12 JAN 2017
David Jennings offers a personal tribute to a champion who lived up to his colossal reputation
FOR a horse who was considered overrated for so long and failed miserably on his first two trips to Cheltenham, Don Cossack didn’t turn out too bad, did he?
Determined, dominant and devilishly handsome, this beautiful brute of a staying chaser spent his last two seasons proving the doubters wrong and his trainer right.
It was after winning a Fairyhouse bumper by 17 lengths in April 2012 that Gordon Elliott lost track of his tongue and said: “If I was a horse I’d sleep with him, he’s that good.” Such lavish praise, so early, earned Elliott a reprimand from the O’Leary brothers. Keep your mouth shut and let the horse do the talking was the theme of the lecture.
Don Cossack didn’t do much talking over hurdles. He won his maiden hurdle all right, but the remainder of the campaign was pretty lame. Fences could not come quick enough.
A first Grade 1 triumph arrived in the Drinmore, yet he did not go on from it. Soundly beaten by Ballycasey at Leopardstown, a faller in the RSA, only second at Aintree and poor at Punchestown, he did not exactly scream Gold Cup winner. He didn’t even whisper it.
But something changed that summer. Don Cossack grew up. The boyish good looks were gone. He had filled out and become a man.
Gordon Elliott (left) always held Don Cossack in the highest regard
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos
Elliott was gutted he had not let him take his chance in the Gold Cup the following March with Don Cossack having won at Punchestown twice, Down Royal and Thurles. Instead he went off favourite for the Ryanair where his Cheltenham curse continued – sandwiched at the second-last before flying up the hill to take third behind Uxizandre. It would prove his final defeat when he stood up.
It was at Aintree where Don Cossack proved himself to be a proper heavyweight. He knocked out Cue Card and left Champagne Fever sprawled on the canvas while good horses like Al Ferof were made to look very ordinary indeed in a Melling Chase that could have been stopped two out had there been a referee. He won by 26 lengths.
Upped to 3m1f for the Punchestown Gold Cup, he destroyed Djakadam, Road To Riches and Cue Card once again.
Who knows what would have happened had he stayed on his feet in the King George. Maybe he would have won but the fact he was still so close to Vautour and upsides Cue Card despite detesting Kempton was testament to his raw ability. Before that there was a routine rout in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, his fifth success at the top level.
The final chapter of his autobiography was the most enjoyable. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was his date with destiny. He was favourite. Hard-luck stories would not wash.
The only story that was penned was one of the sheer brilliance. A flawless round of jumping, a relentless round of galloping – this was Don Cossack at his brilliant best. Some say the spill of Cue Card took some of the gloss off the performance. Not for me.
Such a pity we will not get to see him tackle Thistlecrack. At least we got to see what Elliott was on about all those years ago. He was right all along.