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Wednesday, 25 December 2019

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.

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