British Steeplechasing Star Desert Orchid Dies at Age 27

Desert Orchid, the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who built up a huge fan following as one of Britain's most popular racehorses, died Monday, Nov. 13, at 27.

Former trainer David Elsworth said the gray gelding --nicknamed "Dessie" -- died peacefully in his stable at Egerton near the Newmarket race course.

"There was no stress," he said. "He departed from this world with dignity and no fuss. He did his dying in the same individual way that he did his living. It was time to go."

Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup in 1989 and was also a four-time winner of the King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton Park. He had 34 victories overall in a 71-race jump-racing career and won 654,066 pounds (US$1.24 million; euro968,000) in prize money.

Desert Orchid also twice finished third in the Gold Cup and won the Irish Grand National in 1990. He was retired in 1991 after falling three fences from the finish while trying to win the King George for the fifth time.

His ashes will be scattered at Kempton close to a statue erected in his honor.

After his retirement, Desert Orchid regularly thrilled the fans at the Cheltenham Festival by galloping in front of the stands during the pre race parade.

"We had been involved with this wonderful horse for quarter of a century both in his racing days and retirement," Elsworth said. "Everybody will miss him and our sympathy goes to his adoring public and fan club that never ceased to take opportunities to see him at his public appearances."

Simon Sherwood rode Desert Orchid to his Gold Cup win and two King George victories.

"To me he was obviously a great friend and was just the greatest horse you could ever wish to ride in a race," he said. "He was brave, tough, intelligent and totally honest and he was arguably the most charismatic racehorse we've had for the last decade and more."

Desert Orchid had a worldwide fan club and even a jazz band that followed him around.

"It was wonderful and he loved it," part owner Midge Burrridge said. "He was in fantastic form. Mentally, he was 100%, completely alert, eating and drinking. I am glad he was perky up to the last."

Desert Orchid, the former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who built up a huge fan following as one of Britain's most popular racehorses, died Monday, Nov. 13, at 27.

Former trainer David Elsworth said the gray gelding --nicknamed "Dessie" -- died peacefully in his stable at Egerton near the Newmarket race course.

"There was no stress," he said. "He departed from this world with dignity and no fuss. He did his dying in the same individual way that he did his living. It was time to go."

Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup in 1989 and was also a four-time winner of the King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton Park. He had 34 victories overall in a 71-race jump-racing career and won 654,066 pounds (US$1.24 million; euro968,000) in prize money.

Desert Orchid also twice finished third in the Gold Cup and won the Irish Grand National in 1990. He was retired in 1991 after falling three fences from the finish while trying to win the King George for the fifth time.

His ashes will be scattered at Kempton close to a statue erected in his honor.

After his retirement, Desert Orchid regularly thrilled the fans at the Cheltenham Festival by galloping in front of the stands during the pre race parade.

"We had been involved with this wonderful horse for quarter of a century both in his racing days and retirement," Elsworth said. "Everybody will miss him and our sympathy goes to his adoring public and fan club that never ceased to take opportunities to see him at his public appearances."

Simon Sherwood rode Desert Orchid to his Gold Cup win and two King George victories.

"To me he was obviously a great friend and was just the greatest horse you could ever wish to ride in a race," he said. "He was brave, tough, intelligent and totally honest and he was arguably the most charismatic racehorse we've had for the last decade and more."

Desert Orchid had a worldwide fan club and even a jazz band that followed him around.

"It was wonderful and he loved it," part owner Midge Burrridge said. "He was in fantastic form. Mentally, he was 100%, completely alert, eating and drinking. I am glad he was perky up to the last."

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The Associated Press

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