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 eccentricDorothy 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.
Additional research by Graham Dench
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.
Five-time winner: Peter EasterbyPICTURE: 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, SirKen, 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.
Additional research by Graham Dench
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 befleet-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.
Dual winner Master Minded, under Ruby Walsh, in 2008 on the way to his first Champion Chase victoryPICTURE: Martin Lynch
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.
A revival in fortunes for Master Minded in 2010/11, however, means the Paul Nicholls-trained star goes into the 2011 Champion Chase in familiar position – as favourite.
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