Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, in its current guise, as a steeplechase, by Clerk of the Course Frederick Cathcart in 1924. What has since become the most prestigious and valuable conditions, or weight-for-age, steeplechase in the British National Hunt calendar made a fairly inauspicious start, which was, nonetheless, covered by British Pathé News. Major Humphrey Wyndham, owner of the inaugural winner, Red Splash, received just £685 in prize money; by comparison, the connections of 2020 winner, Al Boum Photo, collected in excess of £350,000, while connections of Clan Des Obeaux, who finished eighth, received over £2,000.
Obviously, the Cheltenham Gold Cup achieved a higher profile over the years, thanks in no small part to multiple winners Golden Miller (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1936) and Cottage Rake (1948, 1949 and 1950). The 1963 winner, Mill House, was hailed as the best steeplechaser since Golden Miller, but was swept aside by Arkle, who smashed the course record, in the 1964 renewal and was never quite the same horse again. Indeed, that was just the first of three successive Gold Cups for Arkle, who remains the highest-rated steeplechaser in the history of Timeform. In 1965, he justified odds of 30/100 when beating Mill House by 20 lengths and, in 1966, in the absence of his old rival, hacked up by 30 lengths at odds of 1/10; he remains the shortest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
In 1983, trainer Michael Dickinson made history by saddling five runners, namely Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House, who filled the first five places. In 1986, Dawn Run, who had won the Champion Hurdle in 1984, did likewise by becoming the only horse in history to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double. In 1990, Norton’s Coin, owned and trained by Welsh dairy farmer Sirrell Griffiths, produced what the ‘Racing Post’ called the ‘shock of the century’ when winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 100/1. He remains, far and away, the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
More recently, other notable winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup include Best Mate, who recorded a memorable hat-trick in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and Kauto Star who, in 2009, became the first horse to reclaim his title, having previously won in 2007 and finished second to stable companion Denman in 2008. In 2019, Al Boum Photo became a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Willie Mullins, who had previously saddled the runner-up six times, and followed up in the 2020 renewal. In so doing, the eight-year-old became just the third horse since the turn of the century, after Best Mate and Kauto Star, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup more than once. Indeed, Al Boum Photo heads the betting market for th 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup, so must have decent prospects of joining the small, select band of horses to win the race three times or more.