‘You won’t see the best of him till he’s running in the Gold Cup in two years’ time. When he’s running over three miles and fences I think he’ll be awesome.’
Sadly we didn't get to see dual Grade 1-winning hurdler Monsignor over the larger obstacles or over three miles, but trainer Mark Pitman’s comments regarding his potential for Gold Cup success were also felt by bookmakers in the 1999/2000 season, who made Monsignor as short as 14/1 for the 2002 Gold Cup before he had even jumped a fence in public.
Monsignor had sprung a surprise when winning the Champion Bumper at 50/1 in 1999, but he quickly showed that effort to be no fluke when sent hurdling, winning a both a novice and the Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot before being sent off 11/8 favourite for the 2000 Tolworth Hurdle.
His opposition that day included Best Mate, who was unbeaten in two starts under Rules, and French raider Snow Drop, who had won a Group 3 juvenile hurdle at Enghien on her previous start. Monsignor’s pedigree, bumper form and style of racing all pointed to his being better over trips of further than two miles, and he was sensibly ridden for stamina in the Tolworth, moving up to lead at the third flight and really turning the screw from halfway down the far side before keeping on strongly in the straight to score by two and a half lengths. Best Mate – whose career under Rules was just a couple of months old – picked up impressively to throw down a challenge and eventually finish a good second, 10 lengths clear of the third horse Doctor Goddard.
As the season wore on the form of the race became better and better, with Best Mate going on to finish second to Sausalito Bay in the Supreme Novices’ on his next start and Snow Drop winning the Adonis at Kempton and then the Triumph at Cheltenham. Monsignor himself took his record over hurdles to six from six when winning the Royal SunAlliance Hurdle (now the Neptune) at the Cheltenham Festival, but unfortunately never made the track again, having been blighted by injuries in the following seasons before being officially retired in 2006. After his retirement, Monsignor continued to capture the public’s imagination through his work as an equine ambassador for ex-racehorse charity HEROS.