The Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the two most prominent National Hunt races in the UK, along with the Grand National. First, run in 1819, it became a jumps race in 1924. The course at Cheltenham covers three miles and two and a half furlongs, with 22 obstacles to be jumped. The popularity of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was first established on the iconic “Old Course,” but the race transitioned to the “New Course” in 1959.
A different Cup is awarded each year to the winner, but in late 2018 the Cup from the very first Steeplechase from 1924 was recovered by the Cheltenham racecourse. Starting in 2019, this original Cup is awarded to the winner each year, along with their individual trophy. It was first awarded to inaugural Steeplechase winner Red Splash and is currently held by 2019 winner Al Boum Photo.
Most Successful Horse
Many iconic jumps horses have made their name at the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That includes Cottage Rake, who won the first three post-WWII steeplechases, and Arkle, who won three races in a row from 1964 to 1966. Arkle was so dominant that by his last win, his starting price was 1/10, the shortest price of any winner in the history of Cheltenham. But the most successful horse of all was Golden Miller.
Golden Miller won a staggering five straight races from 1932 to 1936. His reign may have lasted even longer, but the 1937 Cheltenham Gold Cup was canceled because of flooding. Golden Miller also won the Grand National at Aintree with a course record in 1934, making him the first and, to date, the only horse to win both of the United Kingdom’s premier Steeplechase events in the same year.
Golden Miller was bred in Pelletstown, County Meath, Ireland, in 1927. He was sired by Goldcourt, who was unraced himself but sired multiple Irish Grand National Winners. He was discovered and trained by Basil Briscoe in Cambridgeshire. Golden Miller was Briscoe’s most successful horse, as they won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times together and the Grand National once before parting ways in 1935.
Golden Miller retired in 1939 at 12 years of age, with a final record of 29 wins from 52 races. A statue of him stands to this day at Cheltenham Racecourse.
The Leading jockey at the Cheltenham Gold Cup was Pat Taaffe, born in 1930 in Dublin. Taaffe is best known for his run in the 1960s with Arkle. They won at Cheltenham three years in a row from 1964 to 1966, and Arkle is considered one of the most dominant horses in the history of the Gold Cup. Taaffe and Arkle won several other major National Hunt races throughout the 1960s, but Taaffe had a long, successful career both before and after Arkle as well.
Taaffe won his first primary race at just 24 years old, taking the 1955 Grand National with Quare Times. He’d win a second Grand National in 1972, and six Irish Grand Nationals throughout the 1950s and 60s. He also won his fourth Cheltenham Gold Cup, his first without Arkle, in 1968 with Fort Leney.
Taaffe’s run of success helped continue to promote the already famous Gold Cup in his native Ireland. After retiring following his 1972 Grand National victory, Taaffe transitioned to training, and won a Gold Cup in this capacity as well, training the 1974 winner Captain Christy.