The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the ultimate prize in steeplechasing and the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival meeting in March. Past winners include many legends of jump racing including Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate and Kauto Star.
The Gold Cup is traditionally held on the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival. It takes place over three and a quarter miles and 22 fences. The famous uphill finish makes this a thorough test of stamina for the top chasers in Britain and Ireland.
Famous Cheltenham Gold Cup Winners & History
The race was first run as a three-mile flat race in 1819 with victory going to Spectre. It did not become a steeplechase until over a century later when Red Splash took the prize in 1924.
Golden Miller jumped his way into the record books with an incredible five consecutive Gold Cup victories between 1932 and 1936. His other wins include the 1934 Grand National and he is still regarded by many as the greatest steeplechaser of all time.
Others would argue that Arkle is worthy of that title, a brilliant winner of the Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Timeform rated Arkle on 212, a massive 21lbs higher than rival Mill House and two-time winner Kauto Star.
There have been few more popular winners than the Irish mare Dawn Run in 1986. There were jubilant scenes as Jonjo O’Neill drove her up the Cheltenham hill, becoming the first horse in history to win both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.
Desert Orchid was a great favourite with the public, a dashing front-running grey trained by David Elsworth. Many doubted his ability to stay the Gold Cup distance after heavy rain turned the going soft in 1989. He produced one of the most famous Gold Cup finishes in history when fighting back to overhaul Yahoo on the run-in under Simon Sherwood.
Best Mate completed a hat-trick of victories for Henrietta Knight and jockey Jim Culloty between 2002 and 2004. Kauto Star became the first horse in history to regain his Gold Cup crown with success in 2007 and 2009. He had been beaten by stable companion Denman in 2008 in another epic renewal of this famous race.
Key Cheltenham Gold Cup Trials
The Cheltenham Gold Cup from the previous year sets the standard for form guides. Barring injury, the winner and placed horses are likely to be aimed at this race all season. Al Boum Photo was skilfully handled by trainer Willie Mullins, winning the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Years’ Day prior to his victories in 2019 and 2020.
The established chasers will face the challenge of rising stars from the novice ranks. The RSA Chase has produced several future Gold Cup winners including Denman (2007), Bobs Worth (2012) and Lord Windermere (2013). Native River (2018) won the Gold Cup a year after finishing third in the RSA and won the Denman Chase at Newbury on his way to the festival.
Sizing John won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown before his win for Jessica Harrington in 2017, the first horse to complete the double since Imperial Call in 1996. The King George VI Chase over three miles at Kempton is second only to the Gold Cup in terms of prestige. However, the shorter distance on a much flatter track does not make it an ideal trial for Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Betting Trends
Favourites have a mixed recent record in the Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo (100-30 in 2020) becoming the fourth winning favourite in ten seasons since 2011. Long Run (2011), Bobs Worth (2013) and Don Cossack (2016) were the other successful favourites during that period. The shortest priced winner in history was Arkle who returned at 1-10 favourite in 1966.
Major shocks are rare in this race, although Lord Windermere returned at 20-1 in 2014. The biggest shock result came in 1990 when Norton’s Coin won at 100-1, one of only three horses trained by Welsh dairy farmer Sirrel Griffiths.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Stats
Previous form at Cheltenham is a definite plus factor for Gold Cup winners. Proven stamina is also vital with most previous winners having won over three miles or further. It takes a class horse to win this race. Most past winners were officially rated 166 or higher and had at least one previous Grade 1 victory to their credit.
You also need a safe jumper to navigate Cheltenham’s stiff fences and most previous winners had raced at least seven times over fences. Experience is a key factor when assessing your Cheltenham Gold Cup tips. Most winners had at least seven races over fences before winning the race. An official rating of 166 or higher is normally required to win the Gold Cup.
The age group from 7 to 9 has dominated the Gold Cup winners in recent times. Long Run (2011) was the first six-year-old to win since Mill House in 1963. Cool Dawn was the last ten-year-old to be successful in 1998.
Only four mares have ever won the Gold Cup, the most recent being Dawn Run in 1986. Coneygree became the first novice chaser to win for forty years when successful in 2015.
Top Trainers and Jockeys
Michael Dickinson’s remarkable achievement of saddling the first five home in 1983 is most unlikely to be repeated. Bregawn won under Graham Bradley and was followed by stable companions Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House.
Irish trained horses have a very good recent record, taking five of the seven renewals between 2014 and 2020. Willie Mullins had been trying for over twenty years to win the Gold Cup prior to Al Boum Photo’s back-to-back victories in 2019 and 2020. Paul Nicholls has won the race four times, the most recent being Kauto Star (2009).
Pat Taaffe is the winning-most jockey in the history of the race with four wins, three of those aboard Arkle. Paul Townend won on Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020 and will be hoping to emulate Jim Culloty who rode a hat-trick of wins aboard Best Mate.
Betting on the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Cheltenham Gold Cup odds are available throughout the year and it is one of the top betting races of the National Hunt season. Bookmakers update Gold Cup prices immediately after each of the main trials. In recent years, they have offered “non-runner – no bet” on the Gold Cup in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival in March. They can also offer enhanced each-way betting down to fourth place.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is simply one of the greatest horseraces in the world. The roll of honour is full of great names from Arkle through to Best Mate. It has also produced some of the famous races in history such as Michael Dickinson’s famous five and Desert Orchid’s heroic victory. It provides a fitting climax to the Cheltenham Festival and no racing fan will want to miss it.