Guide To Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious race in the jumps season calendar and always develops into a thrilling battle between the country’s superstar steeplechasers. It is the centrepiece of the annual March Festival at Cheltenham, which is the most important meeting in the National Hunt calendar, and it is where legends are born. Arkle, Golden Miller, Best Mate, Kauto Star, Mill House and Cottage Rake are among the most cherished chasers in history, and all earned their stripes in the Gold Cup. It has a prize purse north of £600,000, making it the most valuable non-handicap race in Britain, and it always attracts the leading runners, trainers and jockeys from the UK, Ireland and further afield.

They do battle over 22 fences at the New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse, nestled in the heart of Gloucestershire, in England's west country. The Gold Cup is run over 3 miles 2½ furlongs and it becomes a real endurance test as the runners are roared on up the final hill, meaning stamina is the key ingredient for winners in this gripping war of attrition. The crowd with be studded with snappily dressed celebrities, royalty and various other dignitaries, along with the great and the good of the National Hunt scene and thousands of screaming fans and hopeful punters.

The event stands alongside Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, The Open and the FA Cup Final as one of the key sporting occasions on the British sporting calendar. Punters wager tens of millions of pounds on the race and the winner goes on to achieve legendary status each year. But its history was not always quite so illustrious.

Early History

The very first Cheltenham Gold was run in July 1819, a flat race over 3 miles on Cleeve Hill, overlooking the current venue. A horse called Spectre claimed victory, earning a 100-guinea prize for his owner, a Mr Bodenham. All that changed in 1911, when Cheltenham became the permanent home of the National Hunt Meeting, which had vagabonded around the country since 1860. The man in charge, Frederick Cathcart, was determined to make Cheltenham the home of jumps racing and abandoned all flat racing accordingly. As the Cheltenham Festival grew in popularity and national importance, more races were added and the first jumps Cheltenham Gold Cup took place in 1924. Red Splash, a 5/1 shot, won it for Major Humphrey Wyndham, scooping a £685 prize pot.

For years the Gold Cup was overshadowed by the National Hunt Chase and the Country Handicap Hurdle, stalwarts of the annual March Festival. However, it soon emerged as the most eagerly anticipated race at the meeting, and captured fans’ imagination when Irish-trained Cottage Rake won it three times in a row from 1948-50.

The Platform for Greatness

In 1959 the race moved from the Old Course at Cheltenham to the New Course, and its fame soared in the 1960s thanks to the magic of Arkle. He won it three times in a row from 1964 to 1966, and such was his extreme dominance over the National Hunt scene that he went off as 1/10 favourite in 1966. He justified those odds by destroying the field. The race has since gone on to witness fascinating duels between the likes of Kauto Star and Denman, and cemented its status as one of the world’s great horse races.

The most successful trainer is Tom Dreaper, who saddled Arkle to that famous hat-trick of victories, and also won with Prince Regent in 1946 and Fort Leney in 1968. Golden Miller won the race a record five times, and his owner, Dorothy Paget, holds the record for the most wins as Roman Hackle and Mont Tremblant also seized glory for her. Pat Taaffle, who was aboard Arkle and Fort Leney, remains the most successful jockey to this day. In years to come, many more superstars will emerge, and fans will witness dozens more captivating battles, ensuring the magic of the Cheltenham Gold Cup will continue long into the future.

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