Moscow Flyer is clear of Well Chief
Moscow Flyer wins his second Queen Mother Champion Chase from Well Chief

Cheltenham Festival Greats: Remembering dual Champion Chase winner Moscow Flyer


Next in our series highlighting the achievements of Cheltenham greats, John Ingles focuses on dual Champion Chase winner Moscow Flyer.


Magical Moscow top of the trio

Moscow Flyer was the first of three consecutive winners of the Arkle Trophy who were to develop into outstanding two-mile chasers at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The trio in question became regular rivals and, while Azertyuiop and Well Chief themselves both earned top-notch Timeform ratings of 182, Moscow Flyer, rated 184+ was marginally the best of the three and boasted the superior record at the Festival, adding two Queen Mother Champion Chase victories to his win in the Arkle.

Trained by Jessica Harrington, Moscow Flyer proved so good over fences that it could easily be overlooked that he showed top-class form over hurdles beforehand, winning seven of his 12 starts over the smaller obstacles. He never got to run over hurdles at the Festival, however. He missed Cheltenham in his novice season after a pelvic injury kept him off the track for five months, while a year later the Festival was cancelled because of the foot and mouth epidemic. Instead, Moscow Flyer’s hurdling career was probably most notable for him twice profiting from last-flight falls at Leopardstown by champion Istabraq.

Had he remained over hurdles in the 2001/02 season, Moscow Flyer might even have been the natural successor to Istabraq but he was every inch a chaser on looks and the decision to switch him to fences was rewarded by him winning all five of his completed starts and proving himself the season’s best novice in Britain or Ireland.

Moscow Flyer in numbers

Two falls from his five starts over fences before the Arkle, including an early tumble in the ‘Irish Arkle’ on his start before Cheltenham, might have been off-putting for some but perhaps the fact that Moscow Flyer had never run in Britain before was also a factor in his starting only fourth choice in the betting at 11/2 behind the home-trained trio of Seebald, Fondmort and Barton in a cracking renewal of the Arkle.

The Martin Pipe-trained Seebald, the winner of all seven of his chases, was sent off favourite and he duly proved much the best of the British novices, pulling a long way clear of the rest. But he was always playing second fiddle after Moscow Flyer touched down in front two out and stayed on so well, winning by four lengths, that Barry Geraghty was able to start celebrating before the line. Moscow Flyer’s jumping was immaculate throughout and included a spectacular leap at the ditch at the top of the hill.

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Not all plain sailing

Back at the Festival for his first Queen Mother Champion Chase 12 months later in 2003, not a great deal more about the true extent of Moscow Flyer’s ability had been learned in the meantime. He’d gained four more straightforward wins at odds on in Ireland but the Tingle Creek at Sandown had promised to be much more informative. Here he faced Flagship Uberalles, winner of the last three editions of the Tingle Creek as well as the previous season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase. But when Flagship Uberalles overjumped and stumbled on landing over the fifth, Moscow Flyer collided with him and unseated his rider.

Flagship Uberalles and another former winner, Edredon Bleu, were among Moscow Flyer’s rivals in the Queen Mother Champion Chase for which he was backed down from 5/2 to 7/4 favourite on the day. Ascot Chase winner Tiutchev (another former Arkle winner) was next in the betting, ahead of Cenkos, who’d profited from those mishaps to win the Tingle Creek, and Kadarann who’d beaten Cenkos in the Game Spirit. But none of those were really able to test Moscow Flyer, the suspicion being that he still had a top-drawer performance in him under the right circumstances. Despite a mistake four out, Moscow Flyer continued to travel well and was going best when both Seebald and Latalomne fell two out. That left him in the lead plenty soon enough for a horse who only did just enough in front, but he came home seven lengths clear of the previous season’s runner-up Native Upmanship with Cenkos another three lengths back in third.

While none of the other established two-milers were therefore able to provide much of a challenge to Moscow Flyer, the following season he faced much more of a threat from the latest Arkle winner Azertyuiop. The pair of them met twice in 2003/04, with their clash in the Queen Mother Champion Chase promising to be one of the highlights of the Festival, Moscow Flyer starting at 5/6 and Azertyuiop 15/8 as the pair dominated the betting in an eight-runner field. They’d first met in a vintage edition of the Tingle Creek the previous December in which Moscow Flyer showed too much speed for his younger rival in the closing stages and came home four lengths clear. Just how good an effort that was became clear when Azertyuiop put up one of the best handicap performances seen this century when going down by a neck to the more lightly-weighted Isio in a thrilling finish to the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot on his next start before winning the Game Spirit on his way to Cheltenham.

Unfortunately, the rematch between Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop didn’t live up to expectations. Moscow Flyer was still going well when getting the fourth from home – the fence he’d also made a mistake at the year before – all wrong and giving his rider no chance of staying in the saddle. Azertyuiop’s jumping, on the other hand, couldn’t be faulted, and he put up one of the best performances seen in the Queen Mother Champion Chase for some time in winning by nine lengths from Flagship Uberalles.

Timeform Day

Moscow Flyer had now run 17 times over fences, winning 12 of those races but failing to complete in the other five. On the whole, Moscow Flyer was fast and accurate over his fences but was in danger of the odd lapse in his jumping overshadowing his outstanding merit. The latter was something he’d clearly established by now. He earned an annual rating of 183 in Chasers & Hurdlers 2003/04 which also made him Timeform’s Champion Jumper.

Silencing the doubters

Moscow Flyer answered the critics of his jumping in the best possible way by not only completing in all his remaining career starts but winning the next seven of them in a sequence that was bookended by victories in the Melling Chase at Aintree in 2004 and 2005. In between he took the Champion Chase at Punchestown (in which he’d unseated the previous season), followed by repeat wins in both the Fortria Chase at Navan and the Tingle Creek, and then the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown before a second win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

By now, Moscow Flyer, aged 11 in 2005, had two younger rivals snapping at his heels, the six-year-old Well Chief in addition to eight-year-old Azertyuiop. The trio first met in a memorable Tingle Creek which was billed as a head-to-head between Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop who duly took the first two places a length and a half apart, though with Well Chief only a head back in third. Well Chief went on to win the Victor Chandler with a handicap performance almost as good as Azertyuiop’s the year before. Azertyuiop and Well Chief then finished a long way clear of the rest in the Game Spirit on their last starts before Cheltenham.

Moscow Flyer was sent off favourite to win back his crown at 6/4 with Azertyuiop 2/1 and Well Chief 7/2 in a field of eight. Like the year before, the close duel between the leading contenders failed to happen, though this time it was Azertyuiop’s jumping which let him down when he made a bad mistake at the water. Leading three out, Moscow Flyer was in command from then on with Well Chief chasing him home two lengths behind ahead of Azertyuiop who was a well-held third after being found to have pulled muscles in his abdomen.

Moscow Flyer was a top two-mile chaser in a golden era

Moscow Flyer returned to a euphoric reception in the unsaddling enclosure where Barry Geraghty executed a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount. The only other horse to have won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the age of 11 is the 1976 winner Skymas who won it again aged 12. For the second season running, Moscow Flyer was named Timeform’s Champion Jumper, taking his annual rating to a new high of 184+. His subsequent victory in the Melling Chase, where he made the most of a simple task, took his record over fences to 19 wins from as many completed starts.

But that, as it turned out, was to be Moscow Flyer’s final victory. His first defeat in completed starts was by the narrowest of margins in the Champion Chase at Punchestown when Rathgar Beau beat him by a short head after Moscow Flyer had recovered from an almighty blunder two out. Two more odds-on defeats in Ireland the following season preceded Moscow Flyer’s swansong back at Cheltenham. Sent off at 5/1 – he was twice the age of the 2/1 favourite Kauto Star – Moscow Flyer finished only fifth behind Irish 16/1 shot Newmill in an eventful race where only half the field of 12 completed. Geraghty wasn’t able to get Moscow Flyer into the frame, which would have earned him a rapturous return to the unsaddling enclosure, but, with the Cheltenham crowd sensing it might be his final race, at the Festival at least, Moscow Flyer was applauded round the parade ring beforehand.

‘He is a phenomenon among steeplechasers’ said Chasers & Hurdlers 2004/05 of Moscow Flyer. ‘But for the fact that two-milers do not always get the recognition they deserve, Moscow Flyer would be assured of a place among the all-time greats. On form, only Desert Orchid has stronger claims to that overused mantle ‘the greatest steeplechaser since Arkle’.’


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