It was a bitter day, in every sense of the word.
But in racing, as in all walks of life, the wheel rarely stops turning for long and it was in the winner's enclosure that Henrietta Knight, Best Mate's trainer, was able to pay her tributes to the departed champion.
For 30 minutes after the tragic death of her pride and joy, Knight and husband Terry Biddlecombe were welcoming home a potential star of the future, Racing Demon, after his success in the following novice chase.
It was, depending upon your perspective, highly ironic or hugely appropriate.
Asked how it felt to be transplanted so quickly from funeral wake to wedding party, Knight said: "I have never been one to dwell on the past. You've got to look forward, haven't you?
"This horse is my baby and he is a bit like Matey in some ways. He's a bit stronger and a bit quirkier in the mornings sometimes but he has plenty of talent. It's been an extraordinary day."
Extraordinary it certainly was. Thousands of racegoers had flocked to the top of Haldon Hill to see Best Mate take on some of the very best chasers in Britain in the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup.
Quaint country racecourse became a bustling country fair with traffic queuing for miles along the A303.
And the cheer that greeted the announcement before the race that Best Mate had won the prize for best-turned-out horse made it clear who most had come to see.
But minutes later the same packed grandstands were reduced to tears after their 'King' had died in a most public way as he suffered a suspected heart attack and collapsed, dying almost immediately.
It happened shortly before the final fence and only a couple of hundred yards from the watching eyes of his fan club.
In the race itself, Best Mate had showed every ounce of his old fighting spirit, running with the pace before fading out of contention and eventually being pulled up when well in the rear after jumping the first fence in the home straight.
First on the scene was Knight herself, who had been alongside the running rail and watched the incident unfold in front of her.
Having ridden a horse before who had suffered a heart attack when she was on board, she knew the signs as he wobbled and his back legs quickly gave way.
The vets rushed to the scene but it was immediately obvious nothing could be done to save him and little more than 15 minutes later, a poignant announcement was being made over the racecourse public address system that Best Mate had died.
From the judges box to the restaurants and from the weighing room to the Best Mate Bar, the tears started to flow.
And while Knight and Biddlecombe - well used to the awesome highs and dreadful lows that racing provides - were able to treat the disaster with a dignified sense of detachment, it was all too much for Best Mate's ebullient owner Jim Lewis.
It was to the great credit of Lewis that he later returned to the winner's enclosure to conduct the winner's presentation for the William Hill Edredon Bleu Handicap Chase, a race named in honour of another great stalwart for Knight and the owner.
But one suspects it will be some time until the scars of this loss heal, even if as Lewis hopes, the work of the charitable foundation set up in the name of the horse will continue to raise thousands of pounds for good causes.
Knight, knowing that Best Mate was as much public property as he was owned by Lewis, said the horse's death would be felt most by those outside of the stable.
"When you work in a stable you know racing can be a hard game and these things happen," she said. "It's harder for the people who had grown so attached to him, the people that are here today.
"Even today he was getting 'Good luck' cards in the post and his death leaves a vacuum.
"As I walked out to meet Racing Demon after he had won, we got an amazing reception from the people stood alongside the rails. Everyone has been so kind and these are real racing people, genuine supporters of racing.
"I felt very proud of Best Mate. He looked an absolute picture going to the start. I was looking at him and thinking he really was the perfect racehorse - I don't think I had ever seen him look so well.
"He had been so well. There hadn't been a hint of a problem with him since he broke the blood vessel and that was a long time ago.
"It's something that nobody could have foreseen but he was a great horse and he always will be a great horse. I don't imagine that any other horse will win three Gold Cups in our lifetime. I don't think he will be forgotten. I am so very proud of him."
Lewis, his voice almost hoarse with emotion, followed in a similar vein.
"What a pleasure he was for everybody," he said. "How much it meant. He made a difference to a lot of people."
All around, people queued in a polite but formal way to pay their respects. From millionaires to ordinary punters, from racecourse officials to bookmakers to other trainers and owners and stable staff, everybody wanted to say how sorry they were.
Knight drew parallels between the death of Persian Punch, who died of a heart attack at Ascot last year.
But something about this occasion felt more intimate with all of Best Mate's nearest and dearest already on hand and the decision to bury the horse here on the track was taken within minutes of his demise.
Knight singled out Best Mate's third Gold Cup victory in 2004 as the horse's greatest hour. But watching the television replays of his greatest moments little more than an hour after his death, it was hard to be choose between his achievements on the track.
Most racing experts would argue that 1960s champion Arkle outpointed him in terms of pure form. Yet his bold jumping, brilliant consistency - Best Mate never finished outside of the first two - and bottomless courage endeared him to those inside and out of the sport.
As the sun set over Exeter, Best Mate's death cast an indelible shadow.