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Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Evolution of the Cheltenham Gold Cup


A race called the ‘Cheltenham Gold Cup’ was staged on Cleeve Hill, which overlooks the natural amphitheatre in which Cheltenham Racecourse lies, in August, 1819. However, while the race was run over three miles, it involved no obstacles and was restricted to three-year-olds, so bore little or no relation to the modern ‘Blue Riband’ event.


The Cheltenham Gold Cup, as a ‘championship’ steeplechase, was inaugurated at Cheltenham Racecourse, on the current Prestbury Park site, in 1924, under the auspices of Clerk of the Course, Frederick Cathcart. The victory of little known Red Splash, trained by Major Humphrey Wyndham and ridden by Dick Rees, was captured by British Pathé News cameras, but subsequent winners, such as Golden Miller and Cottage Rake, in the inter-war and post-war years, respectively, helped to alter the perception of the race.


In 1959, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was transferred from the Old Course to the New Course at Prestbury Park, and won shortly afterwards by the likes of Mandarin, Mill House and, of course, Arkle – probably the greatest steeplechaser in the history of the sport – to raise its profile still further. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was cancelled in 1943 and 1944 because of World War II, but otherwise has been cancelled just three times since 1924, because of frost in 1931, flooding in 1937 and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.


Nowadays, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious event in the British National Hunt calendar, second in prize money to only the Grand National – which, of course, is a handicap – and invariably attracts the crème de la crème of staying chasing talent from both sides of the Irish Sea. As reminder of its long, illustrious history, though, the Cheltenham Racecourse Executive has been offered, and accepted, the return of the original Gold Cup Trophy. The trophy, made from 22 ounces of nine carat gold, will be mounted on a plinth bearing the names of all the previous winners and reintroduced as a perpetual award from 2019 onwards.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Cheltenham Gold Cup Course Record Holders


The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run, as a steeplechase, in 1924, but was switched from its original home, on the ‘Old Course’ at Prestbury Park, to the ‘New Course’, in 1959, marking the start of the modern era.

Arkle, who completed the course in a time of 6 minutes 45.6 seconds when beating Mill House by 5 lengths in the first of his three consecutive victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 1964, is credited, by more than one reputable source, with breaking the course record by four seconds. If that information is correct, Arkle broke the course record again in 1965, when beating Mill House by 20 lengths in a time of 6 minutes 41.2 seconds. However, another reputable source credits Mandarin, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1962, with a winning time of 6 minutes 39.4 seconds which, if correct, was faster than anything recorded by Arkle.

In any event, the record for the Cheltenham Gold Cup was definitely broken, in dramatic fashion, by The Dikler, trained by Fulke Walwyn and ridden by Ron Barry, in 1973. Barry produced The Dikler with a tremendous late run to overhaul the odds-on favourite Pendil close home, winning by a short head in a time of 6 minutes 37.2 seconds. More drama followed, in 1986, when Jonjo O’Neill galvanised the mare, Dawn Run, to a historic victory over Wayward Lad and Forgive ‘N’ Forget; she not only became the first and, so far, only horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Champion Hurdle, but also lowered the course record by nearly two seconds, winning in a time of 6 minutes 35.3 seconds.


The next record for 3 miles 2 furlongs and 70 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham was set, on unseasonably fast, good to firm going, by Norton’s Coin. Despite being the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at 100/1, there appeared no fluke about his victory over Toby Tobias and Desert Orchid, a fact that was reflected in his winning time of 6 minutes 30.9 seconds. Indeed, his course record stood for a decade, until fractionally beaten by Looks Like Trouble, who won in a time of 6 minutes 30.3 seconds, again on good to firm going, in 2000.

Once again, the record stood for 11 years and was broken only as the result of a memorable renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011. That year, helped in no small part by a searching, end-to-end gallop, set by Midnight Chase, Long Run defeated Denman and Kauto Star in a winning time of 6 minutes 29.5 seconds, to set a record that has yet to be broken.