Your Ultimate Guide to the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Paul Townend after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup

The jewel in the crown, the blue riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup goes by many names. Regardless of what you call it, it’s the biggest race of the calendar for national hunt racing and the prize every trainer, jockey and owner wants to win.

It’s a special contest steeped in history and the roll of honour is a treasure trove of national hunt racing’s elite. 2021 should provide us with another unforgettable renewal, with storylines aplenty and reputations on the line.

The ultimate prize deserves the ultimate guide, so we’ve put together everything you need to know about the Gold Cup. From its history, to what we can expect in 2021, here’s your ultimate guide to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The History of the Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run in July 1819 and was actually a flat race on Cleeve Hill. The inaugural Gold Cup was won by Spectre, with the first jumps renewal of the race occurring on the 12th of March 1924.

Run on what is now referred to as the “Old Course”, it switched to the “New Course” in 1959. A familiar horse named Arkle would collect the prize on three occasions in subsequent years, including a 1/10 victory in 1966, the race that saw him complete his hat-trick.

Best Mate, Kauto Star and Denman are the flag bearers of recent renewals. The duels between the latterly mentioned pair encapsulated everything we love about racing from 2007 to 2011.

The biggest priced winner came in 1990, when Norton’s Coin sprung a 100/1 surprise. The most recent shock winner was Lord Windermere in 2014, who rallied gamely to record an unlikely 20/1 success under Davy Russell.

Key Cheltenham Gold Cup information

When is the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is run on the Friday of the Festival (Day 4) and is the feature contest of the entire meeting.

What distance is the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The Gold Cup is the ultimate test of a national hunt horse, with a 3m 2f distance to negotiate and 22 fences to jump.

Can novices’ compete in the Gold Cup?

Horses must be five-years-old or over and it’s usually not a race that novices run in. That’s not to say it’s impossible, however, as Coneygree showed in 2015.

He was the first horse since Captain Christy in 1974 to win the prize as a novice, so it’s an incredibly tough feat. Coneygree unfortunately would never match that level of form thereafter, which shows the toll it takes on a novice.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2021 Antepost

The antepost betting is headed by Al Boum Photo, who bids to join the greats as a three-time winner of the Gold Cup. He’s thrived on a light preparation and has forged the same path in 2020/21, winning at Tramore over New Years. He’s consistent, proven and is the one to beat as a result.

A Plus Tard thrust himself into the Gold Cup picture with a remarkable victory in the Savills Chase over Christmas. Flying home late, he nabbed the leaders in the dying strides on his first start over three miles. Horses who have won the Savills in recent years have gone on to win three Gold Cups, which is very interesting to note.

We’re yet to see Champ this season but last year’s RSA Chase winner has run to a very high standard. His Achilles Heel is his jumping, however, and a round similar to twelve months ago won’t be good enough. Minella Indo finished second to him in the aforementioned RSA Chase and had been Al Boum Photo’s main danger before a fall in the Savills Chase tempered enthusiasm in the market.

Nicky Henderson is likely to have two strong chances with Santini another big danger. He’s run better than the bare result in a pair of starts this term and was second twelve months ago. He simply loves a strong test and will be doing all his best work up the hill.

Frodon won the King George over Christmas and loves Cheltenham, so is a legitimate each-way danger alongside last year’s fifth Delta Work, who needs to bounce back from unseating in the Savills Chase.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends

  • 10/10 – Rated 164 or higher
  • 9/10 – Had won that season prior to the Gold Cup
  • 7/10 – Aged either seven or eight-years-old
  • 6/10 – Won their last start in Ireland
  • 5/10 – Trained in Ireland
  • 3/10 – Sent off favourite

Recent trends favour the Irish runners, with five of the last seven winners being trained on that side of the Irish Sea. Although you need stamina, class tends to prevail in the Gold Cup, with the last 10 winners rated 164 or higher.

It’s not necessarily a race for favourites and recent competitive Gold Cups have meant just three winners were at the top of the betting. Watch for runners who won the Savills Chase on their most recent start, as three horses since 2012 have gone from that race to Gold Cup glory.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Previous Winners

2020 – Al Boum Photo (Paul Townend, Willie Mullins) 10/3f

Al Boum Photo made it back to back Gold Cups with a tough display under Paul Townend, fending off a late challenge by Santini. He became the first horse since Best Mate in 2003 to win back to back Gold Cups in the process.

2019 – Al Boum Photo (Paul Townend, Willie Mullins) 12/1

It was firsts all around, as Al Boum Photo provided Willie Mullins and Paul Townend their first Gold Cup. Anibale Fly and Bristol De Mai completed the frame at 22/1 and 18/1 respectively, for an enormous £4,681.17 tricast.

2018 – Native River (Richard Johnson, Colin Tizzard) 5/1

Billed as a two-horse race between Native River and Might Bite, it turned out to be just that. It was a duel for the ages, with Richard Johnson’s brave partner pulling out plenty in the straight. Stamina ultimately won the day.

2017 – Sizing John (Robbie Power, Jessica Harrington) 7/1

A horse previously campaigned over two miles, Sizing John excelled up in distance in 2017, with his Gold Cup success just his second start beyond 2m 4f. Always travelling strongly, he could be called the winner a long way from home.

2016 – Don Cossack (Bryan Cooper, Gordon Elliott) 9/4f

It was far from a classic Gold Cup with just nine runners, but Don Cossack was the class of the field and never looked in any real danger. We would unfortunately never see the classy stayer again due to injuries.

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