Lord Windermere wins Cheltenham Gold Cup after stewards’ inquiry

• Best Mate's jockey Jim Culloty trains the winner
• Davy Russell's mount swerved in closing stages

Three outsiders filled the frame in the Gold Cup here on Friday but, if the punters were poorer afterwards, they certainly got value for money. It took about seven minutes to run the race to a head-bobbing conclusion, a few seconds more to confirm that Lord Windermere had edged out On His Own by a short-head and then no less than a quarter of an hour for the stewards to decide that, despite some interference on the run-in, the result should be allowed to stand.

No track seems to stage big-race dramas quite like Cheltenham but a final plot twist in the stewards' room would have been one too many. Lord Windermere, whose trainer, Jim Culloty, won the race three times as a jockey on the brilliant Best Mate, looked an unlikely winner as he trailed the field on the first circuit, and not much more of a candidate, for first place at least, as the runners still standing turned for home.

At that stage Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti, the first two names in the betting, seemed to be about to play out the finish that might have been in 2013, when Bobs Worth took the prize after Silviniaco Conti fell three out. Last Instalment, whose appearance in the field was controversial with his trainer, Philip Fenton, facing a court case relating to anabolic steroids next week, had already departed, unseating Brian O'Connell at the 17th fence.

Silviniaco Conti was first over the last, with Bobs Worth, previously unbeaten in five starts here, apparently preparing to launch his familiar charge up the hill. Within moments the script was in tatters. Silviniaco Conti started to drift to his right, conceding ground and momentum as he did so. Barry Geraghty, on Bobs Worth, asked for an effort but got no response and attention suddenly switched to the near side, where On His Own, The Giant Bolster and now Lord Windermere were finishing best of all.

Davy Russell joked later that in the first half-mile he had considered "whether to pull up and wait for Punchestown". But having ridden Lord Windermere to victory in the RSA Chase at this meeting last year, he knew his horse would work his way into the contest. "Every time I left the horse alone, he got more confidence," he said. "And he's a confidence horse."

Inside the final furlong Lord Windermere took a narrow lead from On His Own, who was being ridden by David Casey following an injury to his usual rider, Ruby Walsh, earlier in the day. Perhaps as a result of Silviniaco Conti's drift on his inside, Lord Windermere too started to move towards the stands, carrying On His Own with him and towards The Giant Bolster, who was widest of all. Russell and Lord Windermere were a short-head in front at the line but the apparent interference between winner and second made a stewards' inquiry inevitable.

Disqualifications are now rare in Britain, since the rules require the officials to be satisfied – fairly certain, in other words – that a winner has improved its placing in order to amend the result. Such certainty is difficult to establish and, though this case must have strayed closer to the boundary than many, it did not cross the line. Slim though the margin was, the best horse won.

Culloty is the second Gold Cup-winning jockey in three years to saddle a winner too, following Jonjo O'Neill's success with Synchronised in 2012. He won the Grand National as a jockey too – something which always eluded O'Neill – but was only 32 when he retired from the saddle and took out a trainer's licence.

It was a difficult transition at first and his operation is still small when set against the huge string of Willie Mullins, the trainer of On His Own. Now, though, he has the Gold Cup success which has eluded Mullins once again. Ireland's champion trainer saddled the runner-up last year too and needed this win to complete the set of victories in the Grand National, Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.

Lord Windermere finished sixth of nine behind Last Instalment in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February but Culloty had no doubt why his form had improved so abruptly here.

"Cheltenham," he said simply. "It's made all the difference to him. He loves it round here. We suspected he needed to come back here to show his best and I just told Davy to drop him out and ride his own race. Everything this horse has done suggested that the Gold Cup was the perfect race for him. When we ran him at Leopardstown we learned a lot about him and decided the best thing to do was drop him out and let him find his own way into the race.

"Things have been tough since I decided to train. I was in the doldrums for a long, long time and started to wonder whether I could actually do this job. We tried to change everything but in the end we found out that it was a fungus problem. As soon as that was sorted, we've not looked back."

Russell, too, has had some difficult times this year, above all when he lost his contract to ride for Michael O'Leary, one of Ireland's biggest owners, to the up-and-coming young jockey Bryan Cooper.

Cooper broke his leg at the meeting on Wednesday, however, and Russell won two of the supporting races on Friday's card in the O'Leary colours to compile a 3,926-1 treble.

"It is an ill wind which does not blow your way," Russell said. "It is just a lesson for anybody that gets knocked in their life or their career, you keep your mouth shut and move on. Thank God, for me it has worked out. You just don't know what is around the next corner."

The stewards decided to leave the result of the race unchanged but banned Casey for seven days for misuse of the whip and Russell for a single day for careless riding.

Mullins said later that "I'd say there'd be no need for stewards at this rate of going", when asked whether the balance in such cases has shifted too far in favour of the first horse across the line.

Graham Wylie, the owner of On His Own, could yet decide to appeal against Friday's decision, a course of action which Mullins did not rule out. It would be a difficult route for any owner to take, however. The 2014 Gold Cup was a compelling drama as written and requires no more revision. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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