The inaugural running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was on 12 March 1924 and was won by Red Splash trained by Fred Withington and ridden by Dick Rees. The prize money was £685 that was awarded to the winning owner Major Everard Wyndham. Contrast that with the 2011 renewal. The winning owner this year will receive almost £300,000.
The race was originally designed to be a trial for the Grand National, but from those beginnings the legend and history of the race has grown. It has witnessed some wonderful equine heroes, including Golden Miller who won the race for five consecutive years from 1932 until 1936 and was owned by the eccentric Dorothy Pagett, who would quite routinely have bets of £10,000 (around £320,000 in today’s money) whenever her horses ran.
Apart from Golden Miller’s five-timer, three horses have managed to run-up a hat-trick of wins. Cottage Rake, who was trained by the legendry Vincent O’Brien winning the race between 1948 and 1950. The next hat-trick was achieved by the legendary Arkle between 1964 and 1966. He defeated Mill House in devastating fashion in 1964 and subsequently won at a starting price of 1/10 in 1966, such was his perceived superiority. The last hat-trick winner was Best Mate between 2002 and 2005 who was subsequently lost to us in November 2005 at Exeter when he died of a heart attack.
The first commercial sposorshp of the Gold Cup was in 1975 when the event was sponsored by Piper Champagne. The Tote – now known at Totesport – became the sponsor in 1980 and has sponsored the event ever since.
In 1983 Michael Dickinson achieved a feat with is never likely to be matched, by saddling the first five horses home in the Gold Cup that year – the winner was Bregawn. Dawn Run who won the event in 1986 is still the only horse to have done the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle double.
The biggest upset in the race happened in 1990 when Norton’s Coin won at a starting price of 100/1.
So who is this year’s Gold Cup Day crowd’s favourite winner and who will win today?
I went outside the gates before they opened and asked 100 people waiting in the queue. It was a very close-run thing with four horses with around 20% of the vote. Just on top was Long Run, very closely followed by Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander. Best of the rest was Kempes and Midnight Chase.
I spoke with Midnight Chase’s owners who were very confident of a big run today. “He will definitely finish in the places,” they told me.