IT'S the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival, but the Gold Cup has not always held such a lofty position within the jump racing calendar, writes Peter Scargill.
Golden Miller, the most successful horse in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is led in after his win in 1934
It might surprise some who think of the Gold Cup as an immutable tradition of jump racing to learn that it was first run as a race on the flat, over 3m on Cleeve Hill in 1819.
The Cheltenham Gold cup as we now know it was inaugurated only in 1924, which nevertheless makes it the oldest of the championship races at Cheltenham.
That first running, on Wednesday, March 12, saw Red Splash defeat Conjuror II by a head in an eight-runner field to bag a first prize of £685.
In its early years the Gold Cup did not enjoy the prestige it does in the modern era. It was often used as a trial for the Grand National in its early years, when it was overshadowed by the National Hunt Chase, and it took the exceptional trio of Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle to raise its profile above the humdrum.
Golden Miller, owned by the redoubtable and eccentric Dorothy Paget, won the first of his five successive Gold Cups in 1932 and also took the 1934 Grand National after his Cheltenham success, earning him the tag “God on four legs”. He remains the most successful horse in Gold Cup history.
Arkle (right) in 1965 on the way to his second Cheltenham Gold CupPICTURE: Daily Mirror
Cottage Rake, trained by the legendary Vincent O’Brien, took the race from 1948 to 1950 inclusive while, after the race was switched to the New Course in 1959, the three televised victories of the peerless Arkle in 1964, '65 and '66 cemented the race in public consciousness.
Arguably the greatest achievement by an individual came in 1983 when Michael Dickinson saddled the first five home, led by Bregawn, while the emotional successes of Dawn Run in 1986 and the hugely popular Desert Orchid, the most recent grey to win the race, in 1989 will long be remembered.
The Gold Cup is not immune from shocks though, with the 1990 victory of 100-1 shot Norton’s Coin, who remains the longest-priced winner of the race, one of the biggest upsets in festival history.
Best Mate wins the first of his three Cheltenham Gold CupsPICTURE: Getty Images
The disqualification of all-the-way winner Tied Cottage in 1980 for a positive dope test, caused by contaminated feed, also features amongst the Gold Cup’s more infamous events.
Only seven horses have landed the Gold Cup more than once with Easter Hero (1929-30), L'Escargot (1970-71), Best Mate (2002-2004) added to the aforementioned trio of Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and Arkle. Kauto Star, the most recent dual winner of the race, became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup after losing it when adding the 2009 contest to his 2007 success.
Last year, Bobs Worth's win made him the first horse since Flyingbolt in 1966 to win three different races at the Cheltenham festival in consecutive years.
The win also meant that Barry Geragthy succeeded in three big races at the 2013 festival; the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and the Arkle Challenge Trophy.
Additional research by Graham Dench
SINCE the Cheltenham Festival evolved into a four-day extravaganza, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, formerly known as the Stayers' Hurdle, has taken pride of place as the feature race on the Thursday, writes Stuart Riley
Run over 3m on the New Course, the World Hurdle has been the championship race for staying hurdlers since 1972. The race has received a huge boost in recent years with first Baracouda, then Inglis Drever and currently Big Buck's dominating the race.
Inglis Drever: three-time winner of the World HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker
It is impossible to talk about the World Hurdle without discussing Inglis Drever, the most successful horse in the races history. The Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned three-time winner (2005, 2007 and 2008) was notorious with racing fans and punters alike for his lazy racing style, which caused several hearts-in-mouth moments, but he was never more willing than when flying up the Cheltenham hill - under a different rider on each occasion.
Inglis Drever defeated the odds-on Baracouda in the first of his three wins in the race, the fourth of five runs in the World Hurdle for Baracouda. Trained by Francois Doumen in France, the JP McManus-owned Baracouda won back-to-back World Hurdles (2002 and 2003) before finishing runner-up in the next two renewals. He finished fifth in 2006, in what was his final race.
Baracouda failed to win a third consecutive World Hurdle, as did Galmoy (winner in 1987 and 1988), with both finishing second in their bid for a hat-trick.
Crimson Embers (1982 and 1986) and Big Buck's are the only other dual winners of the race since the conditions changed in 1972 and became the oldest horse to win the race in 1986, aged 11. Beau Normand (1963 and 1967) was the only dual winner of the race in its original guise as the Spa Hurdle.
Big Buck's: bidding for an unprecedented fifth win this yearPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
There have been ten Irish-trained winners of the World Hurdle, including subsequent Irish Grand National winner Brown Lad (1975) and dual winner Galmoy (1987 and 1988), but none since the hugely popular success of Dorans Pride (1995). He ran at seven Festival's in total, including four consecutive Gold Cup's between 1997 and 2000 - finishing third in 1997 and 1998 - becoming a Cheltenham legend and crowd favourite in the process.
Howard Johnson, courtesy of Inglis Drever, and Fulke Walwyn, with Crimson Embers and Rose Ravine (1985), are tied as the most successful trainers in the race with three winners.
Jockeys Tommy Carberry, Stuart Shilston, Tommy Carmody, Mark Perrett, Charlie Swan, Jamie Osborne and Thierry Doumen have all won the World Hurdle twice.
The biggest field was 22 runners in 1985 and 1990, while the smallest field was eight in 1973. Anzum (1999) was the longest-priced winner at 40-1. Rose Ravine was the first of two mares to win the race, with Shuil Ar Aghaidh (1993) the only other.
Mysilv, a former winner of the Triumph Hurdle, narrowly failed to add her name to that list when finishing second to Cyborgo in 1996, just two days after finishing sixth in the Champion Hurdle.
Big Buck's, the only odds-on winner of the race when successful in 2010, is the race's most successful horse, winning four times in a row from 2009. He missed out on the opportunity to win for an unprecedented fifth time when he was ruled out of the 2013 season with injury.
Solwhit took full advantage as he took the lead from Celestial Halo in the run-in to win by two and a half lengths. Big Buck's however, is back from injury, and overwhelming favourite at 2-1 to finally clinch his fifth World Hurdle title as an 11-year-old.
THE Champion Hurdle, first run in 1927, is one of the most prestigious races in the jump calendar and is, alongside the Gold Cup, considered a major highlight of the Cheltenham Festival, writes James Burn.
Traditionally staged on the opening day of the meeting, it regularly attracts the best 2m hurdlers from Britain and Ireland and has a roll of honour featuring some of the sport's greatest names.
Hatton's Grace (left) on his way to winning the 1951 Champion Hurdle
Five horses have won the Champion three times, Hatton's Grace (1949-51), Sir Ken (1952-54), Persian War (1968-70), See You Then (1985-87) and Istabraq (1998-2000). Istabraq, who holds the race record time of 3min 48.1secs from the 2000 contest, was hot favourite for an unprecedented fourth triumph when the 2001 meeting was abandoned because of foot and mouth disease. He was pulled up and subsequently retired when trying again a year later.
There have been many dual winners, among them Night Nurse (1976 and 77), Monksfield (1978 and 79) and Sea Pigeon (1980 and 81), were contemporaries in what is widely accepted to have been the golden age of hurdling. Comedy Of Errors (1973 and 75) is the only one to have regained the title; he was second to Lanzarote (1974) in between victories.
Dawn Run, one of 17 Irish-trained winners, triumphed in 1984 and in the same year won the Irish and French equivalents. She remains the only horse to have completed the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup (1986) double.
Hurricane FlyPICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Trainers Peter Easterby and Nicky Henderson lead the way with five winners each, although Henderson will edge ahead should last year's winner Binocular or Oscar Whisky prevail in March. Vic Smyth and Fred Winter have four wins to their name.
The most successful jockey in the race with four victories is Tim Molony, who partnered Hatton's Grace (1951) and Sir Ken. Molony rode the shortest priced winner, Sir Ken, who won at odds of 2-5 in 1954.
The longest priced winners have been Kirremuir (1965) and Beech Road (1989), both at 50-1.
A Champion Hurdle aspirant needs to possess a blend of speed and stamina, as well as the ability to jump quickly and accurately. Experience and constitution are also vital ingredients. Four-year-olds seldom run in the race nowadays, and none have won since Forestation in 1942. Five-year-olds also have a modest record, with Katchit being the first of that age to score for 23 years when he won in 2008.
IT IS not the oldest race nor the most prestigious at the Cheltenham Festival but, as the world's foremost two-mile steeplechase, the Champion Chase can be described as the most demanding test of speed and jumping in horseracing, writes Tom Kerr.
While the Gold Cup attracts the best of the best, those who can marry speed and stamina in equal measure, the Champion Chase puts flying speed ahead of staying power and asks its would-be conquerors to be fleet-footed and foot-perfect, for a slow jump can spell disaster for even the best.
Badsworth Boy in 1985 on the way to the win that completed his Champion Chase hat-trick
The exhilarating Champion Chase is a relative newcomer to the festival, having been first run in 1959, compared to the Champion Hurdle (1927) and the Gold Cup (1924).
Initially called the National Hunt Two Mile Champion Chase, its inaugural running was won by the Dan Moore-trained, Bunny Cox-ridden Quita Que, who had finished second in the Champion Hurdle in 1956 and 1957.
The race was renamed the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1980, recognising the royal for her long-standing patronage of racing and timed to conincide with her 80th birthday. It was not sponsored until 2007, when Seasons Holidays took up naming rights. Sportingbet.com will take up the position of sponsor from 2011.
The finest winner of the Champion Chase, indisputably so as far as ratings are concerned, was Flyingbolt, who won the race in 1966. The legendary racehorse, rated just 1lb inferior to Arkle by the offical handicapper at one stage, was the shortest-priced Champion Chase favourite of all time at 1-5. He won eased down by 15 lengths, ridden by Arkle's jockey Pat Taaffe.
Flyingbolt's trainer Tom Dreaper - also Arkle's - holds the record for most wins by a trainer, with six. While Flyingbolt and Arkle never met on the racecourse, despite being contemporaries, Dreaper's assistant Barry Brogan believed Flyingbolt to be the superior.
Sprinter Sacre Cheltenham 13.3.13PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Australian racehorse Crisp, most famous for finishing second to Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National, won the race in 1971.
In 1983 Badsworth Boy won the first of what would be three consecutive Champion Chases, the only time such a streak has been achieved in the race, although there have been ten dual winners, eight of them achieving the feat in consecutive years.
Among the most celebrated are Moscow Flyer (2003 and 2005), who went 25 races without ever being beaten by another horse (although falling or unseating on several occasions) and Viking Flagship (1994 and 1995).
Recently the exceptional Master Minded (2008 and 2009) has come to dominate the two-mile chasing division, and was only prevented from matching Badsworth Boy's three victories by a surprising below-par performance in the 2010 Champion Chase, won by Big Zeb.
Last year, Sprinter Sacre raced superbly to justify his 1-4 starting price tag, beating his nearest rival by 19 lengths. He had cruised behind the leaders all race, and jockey Barry Geraghty sat motionless as the seven-year-old eased past Sizing Europe without the need to be ridden out.
It was the lowest SP at Cheltenham since the great Arkle won his third Gold Cup in 1966 at 1-10. Sprinter Sacre's victory was also the second in a row for Barry Geragthy and Nicky Henderson, who had won in 2012 with Finian's Rainbow.
Previous winners of the Thomas Pink Leading Rider Award:
Ruby Walsh top jockey Cheltenham 2011, with five winsPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
2013 - Ruby Walsh (4)
2012 - Barry Geraghty (5)
2011 - Ruby Walsh (5)
2010 - Ruby Walsh (3)
2009 - Ruby Walsh (7)
2008 - Ruby Walsh (3)
2007 - Robert Thornton (4)
2006 - Ruby Walsh (3)
2005 - Graham Lee (3)
2004 - Ruby Walsh (3)
Barry GeraghtyPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
2003 - Barry Geraghty (5)
2002 - Richard Johnson (2)
2001 - Cancelled - foot and mouth
2000 - Mick Fitzgerald (4)
1999 - Mick Fitzgerald (4)
1998 - A P McCoy (5)
1997 - A P McCoy (3)
Robert Thornton after riding Bensalem - Cheltenham 2011PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
1996 - Richard Dunwoody (2)
1995 - Norman Williamson (4)
1994 - Charlie Swan (3)
1993 - Charlie Swan (4)
1992 - Jamie Osbourne (5)
1991 - Peter Scudamore (2)
1990 - Richard Dunwoody (2)
1989 - Tom Morgan (2)
1988 - Simon Sherwood (2)
1987 - Peter Scudamore (2)
1986 - Peter Scudamore (2)
1985 - Steve Smith Eccles (3)
1984 - Johnjo O'Neill (2)
1983 - Graham Bradley (2)
1982 - Johnjo O'Neill (1)
1981 - John Francome (3)
1980 - Mr Jim Wilson (3)
Top Cheltenham Festival jockeys since 1945 (current jockeys in bold)
Tony McCoy - 29 career Cheltenham winsPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Ruby Walsh 38
A P McCoy 29
Barry Geraghty 28
Pat Taafe 25
Richard Dunwoody 18
Richard Johnson 18
Charlie Swan 17
Fred Winter 17
Tommy Carberry 16
Robert Thornton 16
Mick Fitzgerald 14
Paul Carberry 13
Peter Scudamore 13
The most successful Cheltenham Festival trainers of all time
Nicky HendersonPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
50 Nicky Henderson (1985- )
40 Fulke Walwyn (1946-1986)
34 Martin Pipe (1981-2006)
33 Paul Nicholls (1999- )
29 Willie Mullins IRE (1995- )
28 Fred Winter (1970-1988)
27 Fred Rimell (1948-1981)
26 Tom Dreaper IRE (1946-1971)
23 Vincent O'Brien IRE (1948-1959)
Paul NichollsPICTURE: EDWARD WHITAKER
23 Bob Turnell (1956-1980)
22 Ivor Anthony (1930-1952)
22 Jonjo O'Neill (1991- )
19 George Beeby (1930-1959)
18 Edward O'Grady IRE (1974- )
Leaders of the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award
2013 - Willie Mullins (5)
2012 - Nicky Henderson (7)
2011 - Willie Mullins (4)
2010 - Nicky Henderson (3)
2009 - Paul Nicholls (5)
2008 - Paul Nicholls (3)
2007 - Paul Nicholls (4)
2006 - Paul Nicholls (3)
2005 - Howard Johnson (3)
2004 - Paul Nicholls (4)
2003 - Jonjo O'Neill (3)
2002 - Martin Pipe (3)
2001 - Cancelled - foot and mouth
2000 - Nicky Henderson (4)
1999 - Paul Nicholls (3)
1998 - Martin Pipe (4)
1997 - Martin Pipe (4)
1996 - Ferdy Murphy, Edward O'Grady IRE, Martin Pipe (2)
1995 - David Nicholson (3)
1994 - David Nicholson, Edward O'Grady IRE, Martin Pipe (2)
1993 - Nicky Henderson, Martin Pipe, Nigel Twiston-Davies (2)
1992 - Nicky Henderson, David Nicholson, Simon Sherwood (2)
1991 - Martin Pipe (3)
1990 - Nicky Henderson (2)
1989 - Toby Balding, John Edwards, David Elsworth, Josh Gifford, Martin Pipe (2)
1988 - Josh Gifford (3)
1987 - Toby Balding, Nicky Henderson, Fred Winter (2)
1986 - Nicky Henderson (3)
1985 - Nicky Henderson (3)
1984 - Michael Dickinson (3)
1983 - Michael Dickinson (3)
1982 - Michael Dickinson, Fulke Walwyn (2)
1981 - Peter Easterby (3)
1980 - John Edwards, Edward O'Grady IRE, Bob Turnell, Fred Winter (2)