Jim Lewis' Best Mate took charge shortly before jumping the 21st of 22 fences and held off a challenge from Sir Rembrandt to win Thursday's $630,000 Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeplechase (Eng-I) for the third consecutive year.

With three straight Gold Cup wins, the 9-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Un Desperado became the first horse since Arkle to win the 3 3/16-mile race in three consecutive years. Arkle too the Gold Cup from 1964-66.

With the Gold Cup, run at the historic track about 100 miles Northwest of London, England, simulcast to numerous U. S. outlets, Best Mate went off as the 1-2 choice in the 10-horse field.

As expected, French-bred First Gold made all the early running, leading through the first 20 fences before a late charge was unleashed by Jim Culloty aboard Best Mate. The winner held off Sir Rembrandt, who closed from the far outside, and Harbour Pilot.

Trained by former school teacher Henrietta Knight, Best Mate has never been worse than second in 19 jump starts, with 13 wins and earnings of more than $1.5-million. The last horse to defeat Best Mate was Jair du Cochet, who upset the Gold Cup winner in the Tote Peterborough Steeplechase last November. Jair du Cochet was euthanized last week after sustaining an injury in a training accident.

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