The Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over 3 miles 2½ furlongs on the New Course at Prestbury Park, is the most prestigious steeplechase in Europe. Consequently, the race is usually contested by a competitive, double-figure field of the finest staying steeplechasers in training and invariably run at an end-to-end gallop, which offers no hiding place for any horse lacking jumping ability and/or stamina.
With that in mind, the 2011 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup produced one of the strongest fields ever assembled, including Kauto Star, Denman and Imperial Commander who, between them, had won the last four renewals of the Gold Cup. Favourite, though, was the six-year-old Long Run, fresh from victory in the rearranged King George VI Chase at Kempton in January and vying to become the first of his age group to win the ‘Blue Riband’ event since Mill House in 1963.
Indeed, it was Long Run who justified his billing, putting in a superb display of jumping and powering away in the closing stages to beat Denman by 7 lengths, with Kauto Star a further 4 lengths behind in third place. Fittingly, his winning time, 6 minutes 29.70 seconds, set a new course record for the Cheltenham Gold Cup since it was transferred to the New Course in 1959.
Run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 210 yards and, nowadays, open to horses aged four years and upwards, the Gold Cup was inuagurated in 1807 and, when the European Pattern Race system was introduced 1971, was the one and only Group One race staged during Royal Ascot. Prior to 2008, just one horse, Sagaro, trained by François Boutin in Lamorlaye, near Chantilly, had won the Gold Cup three times. However, on June 19 that year, Yeats, trained by Aidan O’Brien, was sent off 11/8 favourite to become the second horse to complete a hat-trick in what is the longest Group One race in the world and duly obliged, drawing clear in the closing stages to beat Geordieland by 5 lengths.
Not only that, but the following year, as an eight-year-old, Yeats returned to Royal Ascot to attempt an unprecedented fourth win in the Gold Cup. Sent off 6/4 favourite, ahead of Geordieland and Paktai, who had finished first and second in the Group Two Henry II Stakes at Sandown the previous month, Yeats never gave his supporters an anxious moment; having taken a commanding lead inside the final quarter-of-a-mile, Yeats galloped on resolutely to beat Paktai by 3½ lengths with his old rival Geordieland 15 lengths further back in third place. Yeats was retired from racing the following October as was subsequently described by Timeform as ‘a giant who will be virtually impossible to replace on the track’.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National are the premier steeplechases in the British calendar and, as such, are highly sought after by jockeys, owners and trainers alike. The Cheltenham Gold Cup, part of the prestigious Cheltenham Festival ,was inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924, 85 years after the first ‘official’ running of the Grand National at Aintree in 1839. However, in the time the races have co-existed – that is, the better part of a century – just one horse has won both in the same season.
That horse was, of course, was the legendary Golden Miller, owned by Dorothy Paget, trained by Basil Briscoe and ridden to both victories by Gerry Wilson, in 1934. Fresh from a bloodless, 6-length win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the third of his five consecutive victories in what has since become known as the ‘Blue Riband’ of steeplechasing – Golden Miller won the Grand National by 5 lengths, under 12st 2lb, 17 days later. In so doing, he set a record time, 9 minutes and 20.04 seconds, which stood until beaten by the illustrious Red Rum in 1973.
Both races continue to enthrall racing crowds year on year, and are steeped in history. Fans of the Cheltenham Festival not only get to enjoy the Gold Cup, but also other prestigious goup one races such as the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle. A Cheltenham win is top on the list for most trainers, jockeys and owner. Al Boum Photo won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in both 2019 and 2020. Who will win in 2021?
County Kildare-born Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh, who retired from race riding on May 1, 2019, just two weeks shy of his fortieth birthday, was one of the greatest National Hunt jockeys of all time. All told, in his 24-year riding career, Walsh rode 2,756 winners in Britain and Ireland, include a record 59 at the Cheltenham Festival, where he won the leading jockey award no fewer than 11 times.
Indeed, Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Alexander Banquet, trained by Willie Mullins, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amatuer, in 1998. Having turned professional later that year, Walsh went on to enjoy a remarkable career during which he would win each of the main ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival at least twice. Indeed, he won the Stayers’ Hurdle five times, the Champion Hurdle four times, the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times and the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice. His last Cheltenham Festival winner came courtesy of Klassical Dream, again trained by Willie Mullins, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019.