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David Elsworth: Six of his best horses

| 16.12.2021

A look at the career of David Elsworth

David Elsworth, one of horse racing’s most famous and successful trainers, is handing in his licence and heading into retirement following a long and distinguished career.  

The 82-year-old, who first started training in 1978/79, won some of the biggest races around both over jumps and on the Flat during his career and was associated with some of the great horses in racing history.  

Equally proficient at training two-year-olds as he was ageing staying chasers, the 1987/88 champion jumps trainer was winning Group races on the flat as recently as 2019 when Sir Dancealot won the Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.  

Here we take a look at six of his very best and most popular hoses.  

Desert Orchid 

The most famous of all of Elsworth’s charges, Desert Orchid was one of the most popular horses to canter onto a racecourse and went on to win 13 of his 23 starts.  

He was at his best around Kempton where he won the Christmas feature, the King George VI Chase, four times.  

Desert Orchid, David Elsworth

‘Dessie’ first won the Boxing Day Grade One when ridden by Simon Sherwood in 1986 and although denied in 1987, won three straight King George’s between 1988 and 1990.  

Although synonymous with Kempton, arguably the biggest day on track for the dashing grey came when landing the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He went on to place in the Festival blue riband in the following two seasons and also won the 1990 Irish Grand National in a distinguished career.  

Rhyme ‘N’ Reason 

Before ticking off the Gold Cup with ‘Dessie’, Elsworth scooped the other big jumps race all trainers want on their CV, the Grand National, with Rhyme ‘N’ Reason in 1988.  

Sent off at 10/1 in the hands of Brendan Powell, the nine-year-old came home four lengths clear of Arthur Stephenson’s Durham Edition.  

That made up for his fall when creeping into contention in the Gold Cup a month earlier and the Aintree victory was his fourth win of the season having gone two years without a victory before that. 

The Grand National was the last time Rhyme ‘N’ Reason was to be seen on a racecourse and he was retired having fractured a hock at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit. 

Persian Punch 

Without a doubt the most popular of Elsworth’s Flat performers, the bold front-runner won 13 Group races in a long 63 start-career between the ages of three to 11. 

He was placed in two Melbourne Cups (1998 and 2001) and was denied the stayers’ triple crown when second in the Ascot Gold Cup at the ripe age of 10. 

Although a Group One prize alluded him in his career, he was awarded the Cartier award for Top Stayer in both 2001 and 2003.  

Persian Punch sadly died on the track when collapsing at the end of the 2004 Sagaro Stakes but he left having won 20 times at a strike rate of almost one in every three outings.  


Bought to win the Triumph Hurdle, he provided Elsworth with his first of nine Cheltenham Festival winners when triumphing in 1980. 

He went on to be the trainer’s first Royal Ascot winner in the same year in the Ascot Stakes and would record further top-level success on the Flat when securing the 1982 Goodwood Cup. 

In The Groove 

One of Elsworth’s most successful performers on the level, the daughter of Night Shift left a disappointment in the 1000 Guineas in the past when winning the 1990 Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh.  

In The Groove, David Elsworth

She also had a real love affair with York, winning the Musidora in May 1990 before returning to the Knavesmire later that year to capture the Group One Juddmonte International.  

Following two defeats at Longchamp, she capped off her Classic season with victory in the Champion Stakes before securing her last Group One at Epsom in the 1991 Coronation Cup.  

Barnbrook Again 

A dual Champion Chase winner, who first won the two-mile feature at Cheltenham in 1989 and then successfully defended his title as the 11/10 favourite in 1990. 

The gelding’s victory in 1989 was the first leg of an historic Cheltenham Festival double that included Desert Orchid’s success in the Gold Cup a day later.   

Only Paul Nicholls in 1999, 2008 and 2009, Nicky Henderson in 2013 and Henry de Bromhead in 2021 have scooped both prizes in the same year since.  

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Adam Morgan