Cheltenham Heroes Of The Past: Moscow Flyer (1994-2016)

Cheltenham is fast approaching and to try and get you in the mood for this year’s festival we are going to look back at some of the superstars that have thrilled us at Prestbury Park down through the years. One such horse was Arkle and dual Champion Chase winner Moscow Flyer, and this beautiful, bold jumping bay was a joy to behold in full flight.

Bred by Edward Joyce and foaled in 1994, this son of Moscow Society was a winning machine over fences. He wasn’t half bad over hurdles either, winning a trio of Grade 1s including the Irish Champion Hurdle back in 2001. He was actually a touch fortunate that day, benefitting from the fall of Istabraq (another Irish legend), but it was only when he was sent chasing that we saw the best of Jessie Harrington’s pride and joy.

He was never hard to spot on the track, with his big distinctive white blaze and his devil may care jumping style. He fell on his chasing debut when looking by far the most likely winner at Fairyhouse, but he made no mistake next time at Down Royal.  He looked useful when winning that beginner’s chase, but I am not sure even the most optimistic of judges could have predicted what he would go on to achieve in his chasing career.

That win began an astonishing sequence that saw him remain unbeaten over fences on all completed starts between November 2001 and April 2005. That run saw him win 19 of 23 chases, his only defeats coming when he didn’t finish. He fell twice and unseated twice during that period, but that air of vulnerability endeared him even more to the racing public, similar in a way to the brilliant Kauto Star.

He was absolutely adored in Ireland, and looking back at footage of his victories in the Champion Chase in 2003 and 2005 sends a shiver up the spine. The huge roars as he cleared the final few fences were incredible, and the atmosphere must have been electric for those lucky enough to witness it live. However, the highlight had to be his thrilling 2004 Tingle Creek win, a race that will go down as one of the best 2 mile chases of a generation.

Barry Geraghty, who Moscow Flyer put on the map, has nominated that Tingle Creek display as the best of Moscow Flyer’s career. So has his trainer Jessica Harrington and, given that his two big rivals Azertyuiop and Well Chief were at the peak of their powers, it is difficult to disagree with that analysis. Just to put it into context, Moscow Flyer was rated 180, Azertyuiop 177 and Well Chief 176 so, as you can imagine, it was a race that was eagerly anticipated.

They all jumped well on the beautiful good to soft ground at Sandown, and as they turned in all three were there with every chance. Moscow Flyer led them into the straight and he was spectacular over the last couple, holding off both his fast finishing rivals by just over a length. He confirmed the form with Well Chief in March 2005, beating him by a couple of lengths in his final Champion Chase win. He followed that up with a facile win in the Melling Chase at Aintree and, sadly, that was to be his final victory.

His career somewhat petered out after that, and his last four career runs ended in defeat. His final start came in the 2006 Champion Chase at the festival and, though he was well beaten in 5th, he battled on admirably up the hill, displaying the guts, courage and heart that made everybody fall in love with him in the first place. Harrington announced his retirement straight after the race, and it was fitting that he bowed out fit and healthy at the scene of three of his biggest wins.

He went on to enjoy a leisurely and luxurious retirement at his new home at the National Stud in Kildare, and it was lovely to see pictures of him rolling around in the muck with his new pal Kicking King. He always received a rapturous reception whenever he made appearances at festivals, and you could tell he was dying to go out and jump a fence, just like in the old days.

The tragic news broke in October last year that the old boy had succumbed to a bout of colic, and he passed away at the ripe old age of 22. He will always be remembered as one of the best 2 mile chasers of all time, and his record stands up to scrutiny. He had 44 starts under rules, winning 26, and those wins included 10 Grade 1 chases and a trio of Grade 1 hurdles.

It is rare for a national hunt horse to remain at the top of the tree for so long, but for four years this fella was the best around and nobody could touch him. He was the horse of a lifetime, and when animals like Moscow Flyer come along they should be cherished. I was in my early twenties when he was at the peak of his powers, and I didn’t appreciate how good he was at the time (as you can imagine I had things on my mind other than racing at that age!). I do now though and, in years to come, they will still be talking about Moscow Flyer as one of the best there was, and one of the best there ever will be.