The Gold Cup is a challenging race that is invariably run at an unrelentingly strong pace over a difficult and undulating distance of three miles and two furlongs. Along the course, there are 22 fences that do not take any prisoners, and the final finishing post is located at the top of a steep half-mile ascent. Because it is so challenging, the following performance of many of the competitors tends to suffer as a result. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is often considered the most prestigious jump racing award, surpassing the Grand National in terms of popularity.
Cheltenham Gold Cup early years:
The Gold Cup was first conducted in 1924 and was once an extremely difficult event to win. Despite this, the Grand National continued to maintain its position as the most important jumping competition staged anywhere in the world.
On March 12, 1924, nine horses were entered into the race. Five-year-old Red Splash, ridden by Dick Rees and trained by Fred Withington, came in first place at the finish line. History remembers that Dick Rees rode Red Splash. Easter Hero won the race twice, making him the clear favourite in both 1929 and 1930. He was the first horse to accomplish this feat.
Frost prevented the running of the race in 1931, so by the time the horses returned for the repeat in 1932, a new star had emerged. Golden Miller, which the eccentric and affluent Dorothy Paget owned, won the first of an incredible five consecutive Gold Cups, despite having four different jockeys ride it each time. He is and always will be the only horse in history to have simultaneously achieved victory in the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year racing season in 1934. Without a shadow of a doubt, his streak of victories placed the event very firmly on the map, and as a result, the desire to win it was amplified.
Ballinode had become the first horse to win while being trained in Ireland as early as 1925, but Ireland had to wait until after World War II for Prince Regent to bring about a second victory for the country. Because of his subsequent work with Arkle, his trainer Tom Dreaper is still considered one of the greatest of all time, but before that, it was Vincent O’Brien who was the one who brought the most attention to Ireland. O’Brien went on to become perhaps the best trainer of racehorses on the Flat, but before that, he controlled the world of National Hunt, and the horse that put him on the map was Cottage Rake. Cottage Rake was the horse that made O’Brien a household name. In the years 1948 through 1950, he rode for rider Aubrey Brabazon and won three consecutive Gold Cups. When O’Brien saddled Knock Hard to victory in the Gold Cup in 1953, he tacked on a new victory to his already impressive resume.
The 1960s were a golden period for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which was held annually at that time. The accomplishments of the great Arkle, who won the race in each of the three consecutive years, 1964, 1965, and 1966, shone brightly and stood out like a light. He scarcely broke a sweat in the latter two years, but the race in 1964, which was mentioned previously, is still considered to be one of the most iconic jump races that have ever been contested. Mill House, a monster of a horse, was the winner of the blue riband in 1963 after being trained by Fulke Walwyn, who had previously won the renewal of the race in 1962 with the magnificent Mandarin. The six-year-old horse completely outclassed all 11 of his rivals, to the point that many people considered him unbreakable and the finest horse to be trained in England since Golden Miller, if not even better.
In the later part of that year, the Hennessy Gold Cup was held at Newbury. Mill House and Arkle competed in it for the first time. Mill House, jumping 5 pounds heavier than Arkle, put on a thrilling performance to win the competition against the Irish challenger. After that, no Brit would ever admit loss again, even if they were competing against each other at equal weights in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March of the following year. On that March day in 1964, there were only two other horses competing: Pas Seul, who had won the Gold Cup in 1960, and King’s Nephew. The duo was so dominant that just those two horses showed up. The top two competitors were able to pull away from the rest of the field on the second lap of the competition, leaving the others with little chance of winning. Pat Taaffe relaxed his hold on Arkle as they approached the last bend of the race. This allowed Arkle to come from just off the pace set by Mill House and Willie Robinson, clear away up the hill, and claim victory by a margin of seven lengths. The English were left in utter disarray. “This one takes first place. We haven’t been this impressed with anything in a very long time “, Peter O’Sullevan said while providing analysis. Because of the extent of his domination in National Hunt racing over the following three years, Arkle was able to rewrite the rules of the sport. He was correct. After an injury ended Arkle’s career, ‘the big horse,’ Mill House, was still excellent enough to win the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, considered one of the most prestigious races on the calendar. This is another item that speaks something about the calibre of Mill House. Taaffe and Dreaper were victorious in another Gold Cup race in 1968, riding Fort Leney to victory.
In the 1970s
L’Escargot, a horse trained in Ireland, began the 1970s by winning back-to-back races for the first time. L’Escargot, who was ridden by Tommy Carberry and trained by Dan Moore, is widely regarded as having achieved greater fame as a result of his two encounters with the legendary horse Red Rum in the Grand National. In 1974, L’Escargot finished in second place behind Red Rum, and in 1975, he gained his victory at Aintree by defeating Red Rum. Throughout most of the decade of the 1970s, Fred Rimell and Fred Winter were the two best trainers in Great Britain, with Peter Easterby eventually edging them out as the decade drew to a close. That rivalry between Rimell and Winter, of course, carried over into the Gold Cup. Rimell, who had previously triumphed with Woodland Venture in 1967, was victorious once again with Royal Frolic in 1976. As the manager of 1978 champion Midnight Court, Winter finally claimed a trophy that he had previously won as a rider. This award was the Kentucky Derby. Some of the greatest chasers of the 1970s competed in the Winter season, but they needed to be more successful to win the Gold Cup. On the run up the hill to the post in 1973, Pencil was defeated by his bitter adversary, The Diller, who is perhaps most known for this event. The next year, Pencil was favoured to win and seemed to be cruising until he was pulled down by a faller named High Ken four fences from the finish line. Richard Pitman, the jockey, admitted to Planet Sport’s Jonathan Doidge that he was too responsible for the loss. Easterby got his name on the trophy when Alverton, partnered by Jonjo O’Neill, emerged from the snow to land the last Gold Cup of the decade. Captain Christy was hailed as the best since Arkle when he beat The Dikler in a tight finish to that 1974 renewal, and Easterby got his name on the trophy when Alverton won the race.
Michael Dickson & ‘the famous five.’
In 1981, Easterby won the Gold Cup for the second time with Little Owl. This was before fellow northern-based trainer Michael Dickinson had dominance on a level that has never been witnessed before or since. In 1982, Dickinson replicated what Easterby had accomplished in 1981 by preparing Silver Buck and Bregawn to be the first two horses to return home. The following year, 1983, the master of Dunkeswick saddled an incredible four of the top five finishers in the race. For the record, Bregawn was declared the victor of the race. His stablemates Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck, and Ashley House, came in second through fifth, respectively. It was a fantastic accomplishment in terms of training and set a record that has not been surpassed to this day. The excitement around the Gold Cup did not diminish as the decade of the 1980s progressed. Jenny Pitman, the trainer of Burrough Hill Lad, became the first woman to ever train a horse to win the Gold Cup in 1984 when she brought him to the race in peak condition. Burrough Hill Lad was an extraordinary performer who struggled with injuries. The ceiling increased in 1986 when Dawn Run became the first horse (and continues to be the only horse) to win the “double” of winning the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. Dawn Run had already won the Champion Hurdle two years earlier. Both times, Jonjo O’Neill’s victory may be attributed to the mare’s performance. The end of the decade was surely a memorable one due to the fact that in 1989, the people’s champion Desert Orchid finally broke his Cheltenham hoodoo and won despite the circumstances being so poor that racing was almost impossible. By accomplishing this task while playing for Simon Sherwood, he demonstrated without a reasonable doubt that he belongs among the all-time greats.
100/1 winner kicks off the 1990s
Despite this, “Dessie” had another instance of this hoodoo in the year 1990. In spite of the fact that he seemed to be head and shoulders above the other competitors and that the track conditions should have been far more favourable for him, he was defeated by Norton’s Coin despite being a short-priced favourite. Graham McCourt drove the 100/1 chance up the hill to win it for Welsh dairy farmer Sirrel Griffiths, and Desert Orchid came in third place in the competition. The Cheltenham audience was stunned and gazing at their race cards as the event unfolded. In 1994, the event saw one of the closest finishes ever seen when The Fellow triumphed against Jodami, the horse that had won the race the year before. As a result, The Fellow became the first horse to win the race that was trained in France. Mr Mulligan supplied a pre-Sir Anthony McCoy with his first win in the race in 1997, while See More Business brought the 20th century to a close with a first victory in the event for trainer Paul Nicholls. Both horses were ridden by jockeys other than Sir Anthony McCoy.
The 21st century began with a victory for the future multiple champion rider Richard Johnson on Looks Like Trouble. This victory marked the beginning of the century. After 2001’s Festival was cancelled due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, we were able to see Best Mate become the first horse since Arkle to win three consecutive Gold Cups in a row. Henrietta Knight, working from her home base in Oxfordshire, methodically prepared Best Mate, which went on to win 2002, 2004, and 2004 renewals. “Matey,” who raced in the claret and blue colours of Aston Villa supporter Jim Lewis, was without a doubt the greatest of his generation. Despite the fact that there were some people who were disappointed that he didn’t run more frequently, there is no question that “Matey” was the finest of his generation.
Kauto Star and Denman
At the end of the 2000s, a competition formed that might compete with the one that had existed between Arkle and Mill House more than four decades earlier. The two horses were stabled in adjacent boxes at Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat facility and were destined to cross paths on the racetrack on several occasions. Denman was the oldest of the two, and their lone competitive encounter took place at Cheltenham. They were born only two days apart.
Kauto Star was a touch more forward than his stablemate Denman, and while Denman was winning the 2007 RSA Chase, the championship for novices, Kauto Star was winning his first Gold Cup. This is typical of French-bred horses. Both competitors competed against one another at Prestbury Park throughout the following four years. Denman had successfully carried topweight to win the 2007 Hennessy Gold Cup, so establishing himself as a potential contender for the Cheltenham Festival; nonetheless, Kauto Star was sent out as the favourite when the tape went up for the Gold Cup on March 14, 2008. Denman and Sam Thomas had the field well strung out as they turned for home, and Denman ground it out up the hill to knock his stablemate off his perch with a wonderful seven-length victory. Denman dominated the race from the halfway point, and Sam Thomas had the field well strung out as they turned for home. Denman became known as “The Tank” as a result of his victory. After exactly one year and one day later, they were back at it again. Denman had been diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat over the intervening twelve months, and there was a distinct possibility that he would not compete in another race again. Nicholls showed patience with him and said that in the days leading up to the Gold Cup, he was reporting that he was getting closer to being at something close to his best.
On the other hand, Kauto Star was still rated number one on the back of two more Grade 1 success en route to the 2009 Gold Cup. When he cemented that position with a 13-length demolition of ‘The Tank,’ whose effort had been commendable given what he had ailed, Kauto Star maintained his position as the top-rated horse in the world. Kauto Star was the first horse to ever win the Cheltenham title more than once, and he is still the only horse to ever accomplish this feat. Each horse participated in two more Gold Cups, with Denman prevailing over his stablemate both times but coming up short of winning either. In 2010, he ended in second place behind Imperial Commander, and in 2011, in a vintage renewal, he finished in second place again, this time behind Long Run. Kauto Star finished in third place.
Recent Irish dominance
Those may have been the glory days for both the British and the race itself, but more lately, Ireland has been the country to beat in this competition. Following Nicky Henderson’s success with Bobs Worth in 2013, which gave him his second victory, six of the most recent eight winners have been trained in Ireland. Jim Culloty is the most recent individual to have both ridden and trained a Gold Cup winner. In 2014, Lord Windermere shocked the betting world by winning at odds of 20/1. While Jessica Harrington (Sizing John, 2017), Willie Mullins (Al Boum Photo, 2019 and 2020), and Henry de Bromhead (Minella Indo, 2021) have added further names from the Emerald Isle to the trainers’ roll of honour, Don Cossack gave Gordon Elliott his only Gold Cup success to date when he won the 2016 version with the horse. Native River, trained by former West Country farmer turned trainer Colin Tizzard, prevailed against Might Bite in 2018, bringing the trophy home to Britain in one of the most exciting rematches in the history of the event.
Some Cheltenham Gold Cup facts:
The first known competition for the “Cheltenham Gold Cup” took place in July 1819. It was a flat race that was held on Cleeve Hill, located in the vicinity of the present racecourse location. Spectre came out on top in the competition that lasted for three miles.
In 1924, the owner of Red Splash, the horse who became the first to win the Gold Cup as it is known today, was awarded a reward in the amount of £685. In 2022, the prize of £351, 688 will be awarded to the winning owner.
Flooding forced organisers to call off the race in 1937.
World War II prevented the holding of the Gold Cup in 1934 and 1944, respectively.
Linwell, the horse that won in 1957, was trained by Ivor Herbert, a respected journalist (see “The Winter Kings”) who was unable to be acknowledged as the trainer because he was not permitted to possess a training licence. Herbert was the winner of the race in 1957.
After an illegal drug was discovered in the urine of the 1980 champion, Tied Cottage, he was later disqualified from his victory.
Piper Champagne was the first sponsor of the event, which took place in 1972. The first year that Boodles will serve as a sponsor for the event is 2022.
Tom Dreaper is the trainer who has been victorious most often, a total of five.
In addition to her five victories with Golden Miller, Dorothy Paget was the owner of Roman Hackle (1940) and Mont Tremblant (1952), both of whom won their respective races. She has won seven times, making her the owner with the most victories.