Bought with the cash from a surprise 50th birthday present for a first-time racehorse owner, Sire de Grugy provided one of the feel-good stories of the Cheltenham Festival by winning the high-profile Queen Mother Champion Chase by six lengths on Wednesday.
The popular victory delighted two families who came together in unusual circumstances four years ago and agreed to take a punt on a horse who has matured to be one of Britain's best chasers.
In 2010, friends and family members of Steve Preston, a businessman from the north of England, clubbed together and deposited 2,000 pounds ($3,300) in a bank account set up in the racing enthusiast's name. There was a caveat — the money had to go toward buying a race horse.
Preston spoke to a number of prospective trainers about helping him find a horse and eventually struck a deal with Gary Moore, who ran a small operation near where Preston used to live in the south of the country. Moore discovered Sire de Grugy in France and convinced Preston and three of his friends to up the budget to about 35,000 pounds ($58,000) and purchase a horse with great potential.
Four years later, Preston was at Cheltenham to see Sire de Grugy romp to victory under jockey Jamie Moore, the son of Gary, and take his earnings to more than 500,000 pounds ($830,000).
"It is a success story," Preston said, "but it is unbelievable so it is fantastic."
Racing in the red-and-blue colors of his owners' favorite football team Crystal Palace, Sire de Grugy — the 11-4 favorite — was given a patient ride by Jamie Moore before moving into contention after jumping the second-to-last fence. He ran clear of second-place Somersby (14-1) in the sprint to the line for a first prize of almost 200,000 pounds ($330,000).
Sire de Grugy now has won Britain's three biggest two-mile races this season, following up impressive victories in the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the Clarence House at Ascot. And he has filled the void left by the injury to Sprinter Sacre, Britain's leading jump horse who wasn't able to defend his Queen Mother title because of a heart problem.
"The horse hasn't been given any credit this season," Jamie Moore said, "and he has proved today, at a track he hates and on ground he does not like, what a good horse he is."
Earlier, the combination of jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins claimed their third victory of the festival as Faugheen (6-4 favorite) cruised to a huge win in the Novices' Hurdle.
Champion jockey AP McCoy was denied a first win of the week when his horse, Get Me Out Of Here, lost a photo finish to Whisper (14-1) in the Coral Cup.
Jockey Bryan Cooper was hospitalized after breaking two bones in his leg after falling from his horse, Clarcam, in the second-to-last race of the day — the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Cooper was due to ride Last Instalment, one of the favorites for the Gold Cup, on Friday.
Two horses were destroyed on day two of the festival after suffering bad injuries during races. Akdam fractured a foreleg in the Handicap Hurdle and Stack The Deck pulled up lame with a fractured foreknee in the last race, the Champion Bumper.
It takes the number of horse deaths at the festival to three, with Our Conor destroyed after falling in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.