The world of horse racing is once again set to descend upon Cheltenham Racecourse, as the festival returns for another year. This year’s festival kicks off on Tuesday, March 16, with the famous Gold Cup race closing the festival on Friday, March 19.
The Gold Cup is one of the most hyped-up events in the horse racing calendar. The race is run over three miles and two and a half furlongs, with 22 fences along the route.
It’s an even more intense run than the Grand National, requiring more speed, with the added challenge of running up the Cheltenham Hill. There is a total of 28 races across the four-day festival – but in the eyes of the world, 27 of those are just the buildup for this epic finale.
Why Is The Gold Cup So Important?
One of the reasons the Gold Cup remains so esteemed is because it’s the most valuable non-handicap chase in the UK. In 2020, the prize fund was a total of £625,000.
But it’s not all about the money, with a long and illustrious history making it the most prestigious National Hunt run. The first Gold Cup took place as a flat race back in 1819, becoming a jumps race for the first time over a century later, in 1924.
The “modern era” of the Gold Cup is believed to have started in 1959, when the race switched to the new course. This remains the route that is used for the race up to this day.
The festival remains proud of its history, no matter how much it has changed over the years. In 2018, it was reported that organisers had uncovered the original Gold Cup awarded in 1924.
This is now the trophy annually awarded to the race’s winners.
You have to look back to the 1930s to find the most awarded Gold Cup winner in history. Golden Miller won five consecutive years between 1932 and 1936, with Miller’s owner Dorothy Paget the leading owner in terms of wins.
She had seven wins in total, as she also owned 1940 winner Roman Hackle, and 1952 winner Mont Tremblant. No horse or trainer in the modern era has matched this impressive record yet.
Only eight horses in the cup’s history have won more than once – and of these, only four have won more than twice. As well as Golden Miller, this group includes Cottage Rake (1948 – 1950), star jumper Arkle (1964 – 1966), and Best Mate (2002 – 2004).
The other dual winners include Easter Hero (1929/1930), L’Escargot (1970/1971) and Kauto Star (2007/2009). In 2021, the fourth dual winner, who finished first for the cup in 2019 and 2020, is expected to become the first to join the exclusive club of three-time winners in nearly 20 years.
This Year’s Leading Race Contenders
According to the latest Cheltenham antepost odds, Al Boum Photo remains the clear favourite to clear three consecutive wins. The defending champion has only run once this season, but remains a clear favourite nevertheless.
The latest odds have him at around 9/4. He has some very tough opposition but remains the favourite to not just win the title but wind up in the horse racing history books.
There has been some skepticism, due to the low number of races he’s run in-between titles. But the bookies and the horse racing community are convinced a third win is likely on the cards.
A Plus Tard is currently the second favourite to win according to bookmakers. Like Al Boum Photo, he’s heading to Cheltenham with no races since the Christmas/New Year period.
But that win was at the Christmas feature at Leopardstown, a three-mile race which proved his stamina. A convincing win that has certainly made him Al Boum Photo’s closest rival.
But he isn’t the only close rival, with Champ also considered second favourite elsewhere. Despite winning the RSA Chase at last season’s festival, he’s still considered a less likely winner here.
His jumping has shown signs of improvement following the Betfair Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. But as that’s over a mile shorter than the Gold Cup, there is still an uphill battle to the finish line.
Another horse to watch out for is Frodon, trained by four-time winning trainer Paul Nicholls. Frodon is a six-time winner from 11 starts over fences at Cheltenham, with a recent win at the King George VI Chase to boot.
Currently, Frodon has general odds of around 14-1. But with his pedigree and impressive recent wins, he could be an outside favourite.
Other contenders include Royale Pagaille, who has three consecutive wins this season and will be looking for more trophies for the mantelpiece. And 2018 winner Native River is also set to feature, in the hope of making a comeback after Al Boum Photo took the title away.
History could be in the making at this year’s Gold Cup, but there are plenty of chances for an upset win uncrowning the current champion. We can’t wait to find out what happens.