Three times winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He was considered and treated as one of the most loved horses in the history of horse racing, his sudden death while racing came as a great shock and cause for mourning amongst millions of people after pictures of his last moments were front page news.
The horse was owned by Jim Lewis and trained by Henrietta Knight.
Best Mate won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2004 with jockey Jim Culloty, matching the record of Arkle, but was withdrawn from the 2005 race eight days before the race itself having burst a blood vessel on the gallops. He also missed the 2001 festival due to the foot and mouth crisis where he was red hot favourite for the Arkle Challenge Trophy. He also won the 2002 King George VI Chase and the 2003 Ericsson Chase.
Best Mate collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack after being pulled up by jockey Paul Carberry whilst competing in the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter Racecourse on November 1st 2005. After the jockey had dismounted, the horse stumbled and went onto his knees. The screens went up, and there was not a pair of dry eyes in sight, not even when another horse Henrietta trains, Racing Demon, won the following race after the tragedy. Best Mate's death was immediately headline news, with his last moments being enlarged and viewed on newspapers all over.
Out of all of his races, Best Mate never came out of the first two, as well as never falling at a fence or hurdle. Out of the 22 starts that Best Mate ran in, he came first in 14 of them, and second in the other seven, the 22nd race being the one he was pulled up in shortly before his death. Of the seven races in which he finished second five were Group 1 races and two were Group 2 races. There will always be inevitable comparisons with Arkle because of their three successive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins. However, the highest Timeform rating for Arkle was 212 while Best Mate's highest rating was 182. Timeform themselves felt that Best Mate's rating could have been higher if he'd raced in more handicaps. Best Mate's career was different from Arkle's. Clearly Hen Knight knew her star chaser better than most and campaigned him appropriately, hence the three Gold Cup wins. Ms. Knight knew her star and much loved chaser, although a tough battler in his races, did not compete in many handicaps. He ran in one handicap chase (2001/2002 First National Gold Cup) where he failed only just by 1/2 length to give 20lbs to the decent Wahiba Sands. Best Mate was the first horse to win three Gold Cup since L'Escargot in 1970 and 1971. As such it was a great performance by horse, trainer and rider.
EU regulations prevented the burial of his body on the Exeter course as Lewis and many racing fans desired. Instead Best Mate was cremated and his ashes buried beside the winning post at Cheltenham Racecourse on December 10, 2005. Lewis was in attendance even though his wife, Valerie, had died on December 8 after a 7 month battle against cancer.
There is now a bronze statue in memory to Best Mate near the farm at which he was trained, in Lockinge.
At the Cheltenham Festival the following year, a statue of Best Mate was revealed, to remember this great horse, who shall never be forgotten by his public. He has even had a DVD produced all about him, and like Alistair Down narrates: A horse, up a gallop. But not just any horse. This one, a three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, and in the process of establishing his pre-eminence, became one of those rare animals who get under our skin, and graduate to being public property. Many promise, but few deliver as Best Mate did.
And few will ever deliver as Best Mate did. Arkle won more and was stronger, but Best Mate had heart, never finishing out of the first two in his life. He put his heart into racing so much that it eventually failed him, and gave out in his 22nd start, which was the tragic end to the life of this wonderful, breath-taking horse. Many argue all owners including Jim Lewis would say Arkle was still the better of the two, and many claim they should not even be compared, but Jim Lewis' words after his Matey's death were that 'He'll(Best Mate) be up there now, taking on Arkle, and he'll probably beat him!' Best Mate was also made one of the elite 12 on the Cheltenham Hall of Fame.