The Legendary Desert Orchid
The 13th of November 2006 will remain one of the blackest days, in the history of the National Hunt Racing community. Many tears have been cried, and many will still be cried, each time the name Desert Orchid is spoken. This beautiful and elegant gelding was respected by each rider that had ever mounted him, instilled hope into many admiring hearts and injected courage and loyalty into each adoring fan.
Desert Orchid was born 19 April 1979, and peacefully passed away, in his own graceful manner, in his stable. Desert Orchid, or as he was loving known as, Dessie, became a legend and a hero after his most famous victory in 1989. In front of an adoring crowd of 60,000 cheering fans, Dessie raced his way into the hearts of many and to the making of a legend, by beating Yahoo in falling snow and on a much disliked left hand turn course in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Dessie won a total of 34 races, including winning the King George VI Chase four times. Dessie has been voted the second best race horse ever, following Arkle. His much talked about and victorious race in 1989 was voted the best race ever by the readers of Racing Post in 2004. Dessie knew how to bring a crowd to their feet and ran each race with love of thousands to support him. Never being a horse to disappoint, this amazing gelding retired with dignity in December 1991, after taking a devastating fall near the end of the Big Kempton Race. The Fellow went on to win the race, but Dessie finished what he set out to do, and was welcomed by a roaring crowd as he crossed the finishing line without his rider.
The death of this great spirited champion came as a terrible blow to the riders that were privileged to have shared victories with him, and the loyal public that had supported and loved him for years. Even in his retirement years, Desert Orchid never failed his adoring public, by parading in front of big races, and assisting in charitable causes. BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show saw Dessie confidently trotting on to their set, and in 1992 Dessie safely carried Princess Anne in a charity race. His popularity could be seen in the Christmas cards that arrived for him, biscuits, carrots, mints and many other gifts that were delivered to his stable, were testament of the lives that he touched. Dessie even managed to inspire the government, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, opening his Budget speech to the House of Commons with: "Desert Orchid and I have a lot in common. We are both greys; vast sums of money are riding on our performance, the Opposition hopes we shall fall at the first fence and we are both carrying too much weight."
Many jockeys and fans have paid tribute to their favourite racehorse, and it is evident that everyone who was part of Dessie’s life, no matter how small, took his passing as a personal loss. Desert Orchid was laid to rest near his statue at Kempton Park. Here together with his memorable victories, he will remain close to the ones that loved him most. Kempton Park has named a race after him, which was run for the first time on 27 December 2006, and many a fan will tell you, that if you looked real close, you could see Desert Orchid bringing the winner home.