Carl Llewellyn can look back on his exploits in the Bet365 Gold Cup with a great deal of satisfaction.
The 54-year-old both rode and trained winners of the Sandown showpiece – the race that marks the traditional end of the jumps season and will always have a place in the hearts of racing fans from the days when it was known as the Whitbread Gold Cup.
Both were memorable for different reasons – Beau was majestic with Llewellyn in the saddle 20 years ago, while the winning effort of Hennessy in 2009 had to be seen to be believed and surely goes down as one of the all-time great Sir Anthony McCoy rides.
McCoy had turned a lost cause into victory aboard Wichita Lineman at the Cheltenham Festival in March – a performance regarded by most as the ride of the year – but he weaved similar magic with Hennessy.
Llewellyn’s gelding contracted in the betting to 13-2 in the minutes before the race, but rarely appeared to be going well as Church Island bowled along in front.
He and 2006 winner Lacdoudal had it between them even after the turn for the second-last, with Briery Fox and Hennessy well adrift, while McCoy was still any amount of lengths down at the final fence.
Although Ruby Walsh had claimed many of the season’s biggest prizes, McCoy had made headlines by reaching a record-breaking 3,000 career winners over jumps in February that year and his inexhaustible determination showed no sign of waning as he approached his 35th birthday.
Hennessy steadily cut into Lacdoudal and Briery Fox’s advantage, heading the latter right on the post to score by a neck.
Llewellyn remembered: “It was an amazing day. He’d been aimed at the race for a while, he’d run in the four-miler at Cheltenham and run well.
“He was a thorough stayer, but he was quite lazy and it was important to get the right jockey on him – there wouldn’t be many who would suit him. I had to persuade him to ride him, because I thought he would run very well.
“He rode him fantastically, it was one of his many great rides. He was six or seven lengths down at the last, but more than that he was never going early on. He was flat out with over a circuit to go, he was struggling.
“But I’d said to him if he kept pushing, he’d keep finding for him – he had the right man on him. He was great. It was a great day and my last winner as a trainer.”
While Llewellyn was overjoyed, Briery Fox’s trainer Henry Daly was understandably downcast.
“He still reminds me about it now!” added Llewellyn.
In contrast to the Herculean effort of Hennessy and McCoy, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Beau was an altogether different winner, making all under Llewellyn to win in real style as the 6-1 co-favourite, when the race was still under its Whitbread guise.
A tremendously gifted chaser, fortune sadly did not smile on him or his rider at Aintree the following year. While perhaps not quite on the scale of Devon Loch, there is little doubt he had the 2001 Grand National at his mercy.
He had jumped with his usual panache in the atrocious conditions, until an issue with his reins caused his rider major problems and they eventually parted company when still going great guns out in front.
Llewellyn said: “He was a very, very good horse on his day and was very good that day at Sandown.
“His career was cut short and he was definitely good enough to win a National if things had gone right, but they didn’t. He was running well a couple of times when he was unlucky.”
Llewellyn can also look back on a Grade One victory at the Sandown fixture, courtesy of Dempsey in the 2007 Celebration Chase.
He said: “The Bet365 was good to me and Dempsey won the Celebration Chase as well, so it was a good meeting for me.”