Cottage Rake: Cheltenham Festival Legend
Cottage Rake is credited as being the horse that transformed the Cheltenham Festival into a major draw for the Irish National Hunt fraternity. Despite failing to string up the same number of victories as previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Golden Miller, Cottage Rake’s unusual story and racing style captured the attention of the Irish public as no racehorse had done before.
Cottage Rake very nearly had no racing career at all. Despite an excellent pedigree that saw him sired by one of Irish racing’s all time best jumpers, Cottage, the young bay failed his first three veterinary examinations and was considered to be too short winded to be a competitive racehorse. To make matters worse it was believed that arthritis would make any career in racing a short-lived affair.
Despite these unfavourable impressions of Cottage Rake, he soon came to the attention of young Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien who convinced wool merchant Frank Vickerman to pay £3,500 for the horse. The first few years of Cottage Rake’s career were unremarkable with the horse winning only two significant events including the Maiden Chase at Fairyhouse and the Emblem Chase in Manchester.
Vincent O’Brien had to wait until 1948 before Cottage Rake produced the sorts of performances that made him famous. At the 1948 Cheltenham Festival Cottage Rake was entered into the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Despite questions lingering over the horse’s stamina and wind he astonished his critics by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
In 1949 the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was entered into his second Cheltenham Gold Cup, and ran an excellent race to reward Vincent O’Brien with a second win. Later in the year Cottage Rake added a win at the King George VI Chase to his impressive season. Cottage Rake, Cheltenham Festival legend, almost added the Irish Grand National to his list of achievements, but wasted a three-stone advantage to come in second.
In 1950 Cottage Rake claimed his final Cheltenham Gold Cup victory. His achievement was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Cheltenham Racecourse has a very difficult uphill run-in, something that Cottage Rake habitually dealt with by powering forward over the final stretch of the race.
A leg injury brought Cottage Rake, Cheltenham Festival legend’s, reign of National Hunt racing to an end shortly after his final win at the Cheltenham Festival. Cottage Rake went on to run until he was 15, but never again won a major title.