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.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Cheltenham Festival - Pertemps Final

Cheltenham Pertemps Final
Hurdle races are always a thrill at the Cheltenham Festival. Observers love the thrill of watching varying levels of skill give racehorses advantage (or its opposite) as they combine speed and power to navigate the course.

That is exactly what the Pertemps Final offers on the third day of the Festival- a thrill of power and pace. The third-grade race sees racehorses of five years and above compete over a distance of 4828 metres (3 mi) on the turf layered New Course at Cheltenham. The horses are handicapped to achieve a better balance as they seek to perform best over a path dotted with twelve hurdle obstacles.

It is a fairly aged race having been first run in 1974. It has been held at every Cheltenham festival since then with the exception of the foot-and-mouth ill-fated 2001. Seasoned sponsor Coral (now of Coral Cup) was a long time sponsor until 1993. Pertemps, the current sponsor, has had the deal since 2002. The sponsorship offers a purse of around £90,000 with the winner taking more than half of it.

The 2018 edition is this race’s first ever edition as a graded race. It was formerly run as a Listed race, but continuous improvement in competition has earned it a promotion.

Horses do not just register for the Pertemps Final. Rather, they go through a rigorous series of qualifiers in the five months leading up to the March festival.

This is one of the races with the evenest distribution of winners across the age brackets. Six, seven, eight andnine-year-olds are the most prolific winners. The record holder, however, had a two-digit age. Willie Wumpkins took first place in 1979, 80 and 81 to set a record that stands to date. The horse was ridden by amateur jockey Jim Wilson and trained by Jane Pilkington on all three occasions. Wilson remains the top jockey in the race, but Jane was overtaken by Jonjo O’ Neill who achieved a
fourth win as a trainer in 2013.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Cheltenham Festival - Festival Trophy

Cheltenham festival trophy
The Festival Trophy and the Ryanair Chase are one and the same race. The names are often used interchangeably to refer to the Grade 1 race run on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The race is a Grade 1 chase event on National hunt’s calendar that admits racehorses five years and older. The competition takes place on the left-handed, turf New Cheltenham Course over a
distance of 4,225 metres (2 mi 5 furlongs) with seventeen fence hurdles acting as obstacles on the competitors’ path.

The race has been run for slightly over a decade, with the first edition happening during the 2005 festival. That event was sponsored by news outlet Daily Telegraph. Ryanair picked up the sponsorship from the second edition and the race has been known as the Ryanair Chase since
then. The sponsorship offers one of the festival’s biggest purses which is somewhere around £275,000. That translates to over £150,000 for the winning horse.

Cheltenham Festival’s leading jockey Ruby Walsh has had a lovely run in this race as well. He won the inaugural event atop Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old horse Thisthatandtother. He was again
the first-place finisher in 2007, this time riding six-year-old Taranis who also came from Nicholls’ training stable.

Walsh had an extended absence from the winners’ dais in this race from 2007, only sweeping first honours again in 2016 when he rode Willie Mullins-trained Vautour who was aged seven years. Trainer and Jockey were at it again in 2017 when they entered nine-year-old Un de Sceaux and went on to finish in the first position. The 2017 win tool Ruby Walsh to a record four wins while Mullins joined the class of trainers whose horses have won two races. Other trainers in this category include Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Nicky Henderson and Jonjo O’ Neill. A Mullins-Walsh partnership is
heavily tipped to set a new record for both jockey and trainer