There is not a season that goes by without the odd shock result and in 1989 Beech Road took it to another level when throwing
the form book out of the window in the Champion Hurdle.
Sent off an unfancied 50-1 chance, the Toby Balding-trained seven-year-old defied those double-figure odds to become the joint biggest-priced winner in the history of the two-mile championship.
But had it not been for a telephone call between Balding and owner Tony Geake just days before his triumph, then Festival glory may never have materialised, recalls his jockey Richard Guest.
He said: “I knew he was in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown on the Saturday and he had never really run well there.
“This was at the time mobile phones were just coming in and Toby was on the phone to his owner in the car. I had said he is a much better horse at Cheltenham than lumping top weight around Sandown.
“Toby said, ‘I’ve got Guesty jumping up and down in the back of the car saying go to Cheltenham’, as he knows he won’t ride him at Sandown as we would claim off him.
“I knew he would carry the weight much better at Cheltenham and it was soft ground and the favourite (Kribensis) was only a pony of a horse. In the end we agreed to go for the Champion Hurdle rather than Sandown.”
In what had been a season of ups and downs for Beech Road, it was a near-fatal experience at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day just over three months earlier that proved to be a turning point.
He said: “He fell at the last on New Year’s Day in a novice chase behind Waterloo Boy. He had that fall and he laid there and looked like he was dead, but for whatever reason after that he ate and drank better.
“Strange things happen in racing and that turned out to be the turning point and he thrived there on.”
Having failed to fire on his first start switched back to hurdling at Sandown in February, Beech Road gave a taste of what was to come at the Festival by routing his rivals in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell.
Guest said: “We always knew he was a good horse and that he was Grade One material.
“He had lots of issues with blood vessels, but once we saw his colour was right and the way he was eating, drinking and training there was a sneaky suspicion he may just show us what he can do.
“I dropped him out the back and wanted to keep him to the middle or outside of runners so we would be in control of our own destiny and not controlled by others.
“He was usually keen in his races, but we were going flat out as they went an extremely strong gallop. In 20 years afterwards I never sat on a horse that could hurdle like that.
“They quickened again down the back straight and I thought ‘my god’ how on earth are they going to keep this up. Everyone got swept along with it and I didn’t panic and thought if we are going fast enough there is nothing more I can possibly do.
“I was cool, sat still and kept him in a rhythm. I pulled him outside at the top of the hill and he picked up and just ate every hurdle, so much so I joined them in the lead after two out.
“He jumped the last in front and went on up the run in. It was one of the best races I ever rode and he made me look very cool, which I’m appreciative of.”
Proving his Champion Hurdle victory was not a flash in a pan, Beech Road backed it up on his return to two and a half miles in the following month’s Aintree Hurdle – but for Guest it will be his Festival win that will remain the most poignant.
He said: “I remember a friend with stayed with me in Liverpool and we had told a taxi driver the night before he would be about 5-2. He duly showed Cheltenham was not a fluke and romped up there at 10-1.
“In my youth I was a bit of a cavalier and although I sorted myself out we certainly did celebrate no holds barred, as those days are few and far between. Now at the age of 53 I can say I utterly enjoyed every moment of it.
“I’ve won a Grand National and everyone wants to win that, but there is no doubt winning a championship Grade One race at the Festival is what you want to be doing as a jockey.”