Desert Orchid Remembered in Royal Mail Stamp Issue
Every year Royal Mail produces several themed stamped issues. In 2017 these will be very much focused on Britain. The subject matter will vary but Royal Mail have announced that one of the issues will showcase "Racecourse Legends". Most of the legends that will feature have yet to be revealed but Royal Mail have said that one of the horses celebrated will be Desert Orchid.
Desert Orchid was a hugely popular steeple chaser who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. The iconic grey truly captured the hearts of the nation and even had his own fan club. I am particularly delighted to be reminded of the exploits of this horse as I was one of the many people who followed his career closely.
Discovering a Legend
I first discovered Desert Orchid in the strangest of ways. It was the 1980’s and so access to information was a little harder than it is today. There was no internet, smartphones or multi-channel television. I didn’t have much in the way of gadgetry at the time but I did own an Atari ST games console.
Shortly after acquiring my Atari I discovered the availability of compatible gambling software. This promised to analyse races and predict winners. I was fascinated by this concept and so decided to invest in the software. To be honest, I thought that there was little chance of it working. I was also shocked to discover how much information I was required to input in order to extract a recommended bet.
The First Gamble
However, having invested in the programme I thought that I should at least give it a go. I bought a copy of the Racing Post and chose a race which met the criteria recommended by the software. I spent a couple of hours entering the details of the horses, jockeys and trainers together with the nature of the going. My computer then cogitated for a moment before telling me that I should place a win bet on a horse called Desert Orchid.
I had never heard of the horse which wasn’t much of a surprise as I didn’t really follow racing and had only ever placed bets on the Grand National. But I went to the betting shop and placed a few quid on Desert Orchid to win. I then had to do the weekly shop and when I returned I was anxious to find out what had happened in the race. There was no internet in those days and so I was forced to look at Teletext to find out the result. I immediately saw the headline "Dessie does it again".
Wow! The gambling software had worked!
I continued to load the details of races into my computer over the following weeks and the software delivered a respectable success rate but nothing spectacular. The task of loading all the data soon became too onerous and I eventually stopped bothering. But I had become fascinated by the exploits of Desert Orchid and made a point of watching his big races.
The 1989 Gold Cup
I was very excited in the build-up to the 1989 Gold Cup. Dessie was favourite to win the race until the weather turned nasty and the ground no longer suited him. There were rumours that he would be withdrawn because of the conditions. But he did run and the race will live long in the memory. Dessie was going well until the final stages when he was overhauled by a horse called Yahoo who was more suited to the muddy conditions.
This would normally have been the end of the story but Dessie was a special horse. He rallied again and won what was later voted the greatest race of all time. I actually felt quite emotional!
Dessie won 34 races during his 10-year career, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, four King George VIs, the Irish Grand National and the Whitbread Gold Cup. He retired in 1991 but a year later became seriously ill and was given little chance of survival. However, this was Dessie and he pulled through. He died 14 years later at the age of 27.
I will have to invest in that stamp issue when it is released!