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History of the Cheltenham Gold Cup

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Although a race known as the Cheltenham Gold Cup had existed in the past as a three-mile Flat race in the 19th century, its present status is very much down to the foresight of Frederick Cathcart, Clerk of the Course and Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse from 1908 to 1934.

Jump racing in the early 20th century was dominated by the Grand National and as great a spectacle as that world-famous race is, it is a handicap and Cathcart was keen to establish a conditions contest for the best chasers to contest. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was born in 1924, followed by the Champion Hurdle in 1927 - the modern foundations of The Festival as know and love it today were well and truly laid.

Red Splash won the inaugural running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1924 and was presented with a magnificent trophy comprised of 644 grams of nine carat gold and plated in 18 carat gold to give it a rich colour.

After lying in a bank vault for many years, Cheltenham was reunited with the original trophy at the end of 2018 and it is now the perpetual trophy for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The trophy has been taken on tour around the region in the build-up to the race’s 100th anniversary, taking locations as diverse as Cheltenham Town Football Club, Gloucester Rugby Club, schools, Hartpury College, Leckhampton Court Hospice and even NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Force barracks.

Cathcart’s vision of an elite level weights contest for the very best chasers quickly came into being thanks to two great horses – Easter Hero, successful in 1929 and 1930 and Golden Miller, the contest’s winning-most horses with five successes (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936). Easter Hero narrowly failed to add victory in the Grand National to his CV, finishing runner-up under 12st 7lbs in the 1929 running of the Aintree contest, but Golden Miller won both races in 1934 and remains the only horse to achieve this magnificent double in the same season. L’Escargot won the Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971 followed by the Grand National in 1975 but nowadays it is rare for horses to contest both races.

The early post-war years at The Festival were dominated by Vincent O’Brien and the great trainer saddled Cottage Rake to three consecutive victories (1948, 1949, 1950) as well as Knock Hard (1953) before turning his hand, equally successfully, to Flat racing.


It is another Irishman who holds the record for training the most Cheltenham Gold Cup winners – Tom Dreaper. Modest and unassuming, viewing himself more as farmer who trained a few horses on the side, Dreaper saddled his first Gold Cup winner in 1946 with the veteran Prince Regent, a magnificent horse who was robbed of racing in his prime years in Britain due to World War II. Dreaper’s second Gold Cup winner was for many the greatest of them all – Arkle, the winner in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Fort Leney was Dreaper’s record fifth and final winner in 1968.

The 1980s was a vintage decade for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having saddled Silver Buck to success in 1982, a year later his Michael Dickinson recorded the remarkable feat of saddling the first five horses home led by Bregawn.


Cheltenham has never seen scenes like those in the aftermath of the Irish mare Dawn Run landing the 1986 contest, when she made history by becoming the first horse (and to date, only) horse to win the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.


It was said the hugely popular grey Desert Orchid couldn’t win on a right-handed course and didn’t like soft ground but that was no bar to success in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup when he rallied with tremendous courage to overhaul Yahoo in the final strides. With conditions much more in is favour, Desert Orchid was expected to win again in 1990 but had to settle for third behind Norton’s Coin who at 100-1 was the longest-priced winner in the race’s history and the only to be trained in Wales.

With no multiple winner since L’Escargot in the early 1970s, many were beginning to wonder if there would ever be another but then along came Best Mate, who was expertly trained by Henrietta Knight to record a hat-trick of victories in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Paul Nicholls first enjoyed Gold Cup success in 1999 with See More Business and a second came in 2007 courtesy of Kauto Star. Also a record five-time winner of Kempton Park’s King George VI Chase, Kauto Star had to give way to stable companion Denman in 2008 before winning again in 2009 and making history by becoming the first horse to regain the Gold Cup crown. Nicholls is now just one winner away from equalling Tom Dreaper’s longstanding record of five Cheltenham Gold Cup winners.

Racing is one of the few sports where women and men compete on equal terms and the Gold Cup has long been on the forefront of equality between the sexes. Jenny Pitman became the first successful female trainer with Burrough Hill Lad in 1984 and repeated the feat seven years later with Garrison Savannah. Henrietta Knight’s three wins with Best Mate were followed by Jessica Harrington, who became the first female Irish trainer to succeed with Sizing John in 2017.

In 2022 Rachael Blackmore became the first winning female jockey. Having gone agonisingly close when runner-up to stable companion Minella Indo on A Plus Tard in 2021, Blackmore and A Plus Tard reversed the placings with Minella Indo in no uncertain terms to come home the spectacular 15-length winner.


Commercial sponsorship of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was provided by Piper Champagne in 1972. The Tote took over sponsorship in 1980 followed by Betfred (2012-2015), Timico (2016-2018) and Magners (2019-2020). The 2021 contest took place behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was run in aid of WellChild while Boodles assumed sponsorship in 2022.

It has been a marvellous Gold Cup century and who knows what the next 100 years will hold. One thing is for certain – if Frederick Cathcart were able to see how his vision grew to become the race the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup is today he would be one very proud man.

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