Desert Orchid being riddin in by Richard Dunwoody after winning the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse 1990
The English racehorse Desert Orchid has been ranked as the fourth best National Hunt racer of all time. He took the Irish Grand National in 1990, with rider Richard Dunwoody and trainer David Elsworth.
Desert Orchid won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. In 1990, he won both the Irish Grand National and the Racing Post Chase.
I never forget the 30,000 people gasp for breath when he hit the last fence In the “Irish National.”
Desert Orchid won the King George VI Chase a total of four times (1986, 1988, 1989, and 1990) and the Gainsborough Chase a total of three times (1987, 1989, and 1991). Other major wins by this much-loved horse include the Tolworth Hurdle and the Kingwell Hurdle in 1984, the Hurst Park Novices’ Chase in 1985, the Martell Cup, the Whitbread Gold Cup, and the Tingle Creek Trophy in 1988, and the Victor Chandler Chase in 1989.
You can read about Richard
Desert Orchid retired in December 1991, and survived a life threatening operation for colic a year later. He took his summer holidays with the Burridge family at Ab Kettleby, and spent the winter with David Elsworth leading out the 2 year olds and getting ready for his many public appearances. He returned every year to Kempton to lead out the parade of runners for the King George VI Chase.
During his retirement, he raised thousands of pounds for charity, and his presence at charity events attracted large crowds.His fan club was run by part owner Midge Burridge and family friend John Hippesley and in the 17 years that the fan club ran they raised over £40,000 for charity through sales of Dessie merchandise, especially his racing calendar.
When David Elsworth left Whitsbury after 25 years the amazing grey packed up and went with him to Egerton House Stables in Newmarket, Suffolk. But the home of champions and stallions welcomed the old gelding and his trainer with open arms and Newmarket racecourses held their annual press day in 2006 on Dessie’s 27th birthday at his stable. He also paraded at the course to the delight of his fans.
Desert Orchid was no longer ridden due to his age and David announced that his appearances would be fewer, and nearer to home, as he was now such a senior citizen, though still so keen to greet the crowds that thronged to see him. Dessie’s last public appearance was on October 1 at his fan club open day which was held at the National Stud in conjunction with stallion parades. The next day Dessie was exhausted, once again he had given his all and loved every minute of being in the limelight.
It was clear that Desert Orchid was now frail, but his spirit never wavered. In the week of November 6 he began to have trouble with coordination and those close to him were summoned to say goodbye. A vet was on standby should his assistance be needed to speed the horse on his way. It was no surprise to his trainer that to the last Desert Orchid was in control – and the vet was not required. Last seen by those who loved him best at Egerton he was lying down but nibbling his hay. One hour later at 6:05am, Monday the 13th November, The Grey Horse passed on.
Desert Orchid’s ashes were buried in a private ceremony at Kempton Park Racecourse near his statue the week prior to the King George. His presence on the day was much missed. The inaugural running of the Desert Orchid Chase on the 27th was preceded by the unveiling of the headstone for his grave, videos of his finest hours at the track, and a moments silence in his honour.