by Dan Mumford
As far as famous race horses go, Desert Orchid was perhaps the most striking to look at because of his colour.
This article looks at his incredible career, in which he achieved a grand total of 34 victories, something that didn’t seem possible when he fell during his very first National Hunt race.
This is the first part of a three-part article.
The People’s Champion – Desert Orchid
Easily one of, if not the most popular racehorse in UK horse racing history, is undoubtedly the great grey, Desert Orchid, who was affectionately known as ‘Dessie”.
There’s something about a grey horse that stands out amongst others. I suppose its that although not rare, they are not as popular as bay, chestnut etc, and so stand out as a white knight in a blur of dark horses. And Dessie was exactly that, a white knight.
How It All Started
Desert Orchid was born on 11 April 1979 to the aptly named Sire (father) Grey Mirage, and to Dame (mother) Flower Child.
His horse racing debut was in 1983, but did not exactly start as planned, as he fell at the first fence at a race at Kempton. The fall was a heavy one and many wondered whether he’d recover to race competitively again, but despite this early setback, Dessie was already showing the courage that would adorn him to millions of fans.
I must admit that I did not see his first race, but what would ensue was something that I did witness, and boy am I glad that I did.
Dessie Gets Off The Mark
At the start of the 1983/84 season, Dessie was up and running, winning his first race of the season by 20 lengths at Ascot. In fact the season proved to be a successful one for Dessie and got him the attention that he would keep for the remainder of his career, as he would rack up six wins from eight starts in that season.
But the following season saw him struggle once again. After the success of the previous season, he was no longer eligible for running in novice races and the step up in class showed.
He would go on and win only one of his eight starts that season, at Sandown in the February, but as many horses do when stepping up amongst a better class of horse, Dessie struggled to aclimatise.
A Change Worked Wonders
After that season, trainer David Elsworth decided to switch Dessie to the bigger obstacles, this time racing in steeplechasing races, rather than hurdles, and he immediately looked and felt more at home.
He would run up a sequence of four wins at Exeter, Sandown and twice at Ascot, and his famous front running style was proving hard to beat, but proving to be hugely popular with horse racing fans.
At the start of the 1986 season, he would feature regularly in the top three places, but failed to win a race until the November, when he would win at Sandown.
He would also taste success twice in December, winning a two mile handicap chase at Ascot, followed up by victory on Boxing Day at Kempton by a massive 15 lengths, against a hugely impressive field, that included Door Latch, Forgive ‘n’ Forget and Wayward Lad.
And so the 1986 season ends with Dessie winning his last two races before the end of the year. The racing experts expected more of the same for the 1987 season, and in Part Two of this article you can find out how he would get on.
Cliff Thurston owns the successful Grosvenor Racing Club, and has been giving his members winning horse racing tips since 2003.