For nearly eight decades, the record for the most consecutive wins at the Cheltenham Festival was held by the legendary Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup an unprecedented five years running between 1932 and 1936. However, in 2013, the French-bred mare Quevega, trained by Willie Mullins, won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle for the fifth successive year, thereby equalling the feat of Golden Miller. In 2014, as a 10-year-old, Quevega returned to the Cheltenham Festival to win the same race for the sixth consecutive year and take the record outright.
Originally acquired by Willie Mullins from France, as a 4-year-old, in 2008, Quevega was lightly raced throughout her career and, between 2010 and 2014 only ever contested the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the World Series Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, which she also won four years running between 2010 and 2014. The daughter of Robin Des Champs started favourite for all six attempts at the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle and odds-on favourite for the last four. All in all, she won 16 of her 24 races and just over £536,000 in win and place prize money. Unsurprisingly, Quevega was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cheltenham Racecourse in 2016.
The jockey who holds the record for the highest number of Cheltenham Festival winners in a single year is Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh. Walsh retired from the saddle on May 1, 2019, just two weeks shy of his fortieth birthday but, by the end of his career, had ridden a total of 59 Cheltenham Festival winners and become leading jockey at the Festival on 11 occasions between 2004 and 2017. Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner on Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amateur, in 1998 but, as a professional, rode seven winners over the four days of the Festival not once, but twice.
His first record-breaking haul came in 2009, when his notable winners included Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle, now the Stayers’ Hurdle, and Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, all for Paul Nicholls. Of course, Walsh and Nicholls parted company in 2013, with Walsh choosing to concentrate on riding for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins. However, the end of one of the most successful partnerships in the history of National Hunt racing did Walsh little harm as far as the Cheltenham Festival was concerned. Indeed, in 2016, Walsh equalled his own record by riding seven winners, all trained by Mullins, at the Festival. Notable winners that year included Douvan in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and the ill-fated Vautour in the Ryanair Chase.
For the uninitiated, Arkle was arguably the greatest steeplechaser of all time. In a four-year period between 1962 and 1966, Arkle won 22 of his 26 races over fences – including the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966 – and finished behind just six horses. His Timeform Annual Rating, of 212, is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser and 20lb superior to any other steeplechaser in history, with the exception of his stable companion, Flyingbolt. Arkle was owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, and trained by Thomas William ‘Tom’ Dreaper at the family farm in Greenogue, Kilsallaghan, Co. Dublin, Ireland.
The nature and prestige of the Cheltenham Festival ensure that every win, every failure, every near miss and every fall enters the history books. However, there are always plenty of noteworthy occurrences that stick in the memory longer than others. Indeed, at the 2020 festival, there is a chance for some horses, trainers and jockeys to make history. Below we look at some of the potential achievements that we might witness next month:
Five in a row for Altior?
Nobody can touch Quevega’s record (2009-2014) of six consecutive festival victories yet, but we could be entertaining that notion next year if Altior lands the Queen Mother Champion Chase. At the moment, he is 3/1 to land his third consecutive Champion Chase (it would tie Badsworth Boy for that record) but finds himself in the unfamiliar territory of not being favourite (Defi Du Seuil leads the market at 7/4). Adding a third Champion Chase to his 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 2017 Arkle victories would be remarkable, and possibly set up one of the races of the century next year to hunt down Quevega’s record.
Seventh Heaven for Henderson?
Nicky Henderson currently has six victories in the Champion Chase, tied with the legendary Tom Dreaper in the prestigious two-miler. If Altior wins, then Henderson will be out on his own with seven. Of course, it doesn’t need to be Altior, but it would be something of a surprise if Henderson’s other entry – the 50/1 shot Janika – lands him that seventh Champion Chase. On the other hand, Paul Nicholl’s sends several decent horses into the race, including an interesting candidate in 25/1 chance (Betfair) Dynamite Dollars, and he will equal Dreaper and Henderson with six wins if he succeeds.
A Five-Year Wait for a Hat-Trick?
Three-time winners at the Cheltenham Festival are rightly venerated, but there will be a lot of money going on Faugheen to win the Marsh Novices’ Chase five years after his Champion Hurdle triumph. Faugheen, who can be backed with the latest free bets for Cheltenham Festival at Freebets.com, is a tidy 6/1 to win the opener on St Patrick’s Thursday. However, there is another less conspicuous runner aiming for a hat-trick this year – Don Poli. Winner of the Martin Pipe in 2014 and the RSA Chase in 2015 (under Willie Mullins’ tutelage), Don Poli has had several changes of trainer in the last couple of years and can be currently found winning low-key point to points. It would be remarkable if he could land the Foxhunters’ Chase on Gold Cup Day. He’s 20/1 with Bet365 to do so.
Can Tiger Roll Eclipse Altior?
Altior is not alone in trying to become a five-time Cheltenham winner, as Tiger Roll will also start as 5/4 favourite for the Cross Country Chase in pursuit of his fifth win at the festival. The wins weren’t consecutive, of course, stretching back to the Triumph Hurdle in 2014. Tiger Roll added the National Hunt Chase in 2017, as well as the Cross Country Chase in 2018 and 2019. However, punters should be cautious as his trainer Gordon Elliott has advised caution over his fitness. Moreover, you would imagine that all the energy is going to be pointed towards another piece of history – winning a third Grand National in April.