Cheltenham Festival Day Four: Gold Cup Day

fridayIf you’ve read our guides to the other three days of the Cheltenham Festival then you’ll know that there are plenty races throughout the week that are worthy of your attention. Whether you’re looking at the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Champion Hurdle, there’s a top-class race to get excited about every day. Yet there’s no question that the big race looming large over the entire week is the Gold Cup, making Friday one of the most thrilling days on the National Hunt calendar. As good as the other races are they seem like appetisers when compared to the main event that is the Gold Cup.

Yet what should you expect on Day Four of the Festival? Are there any unwritten rules that you need to keep an eye out for? And what races take place before and after the Gold Cup? That might well dominate the day, but there are plenty of other opportunities for you to have a flutter the rest of the time, so we’ve got the lowdown on each of the races. Does history and previous success matter when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival? Maybe, so we’ll tell you about form in all of the races, too. This may not be a comprehensive guide but it’s not far off

Gold Cup Day Race Card

Given that the day feels very much as though it understandably centres around the Gold Cup, it’s important to know when the big one gets underway. You’ll want to know about the other races too, no doubt, so here’s a look at each of them in turn:

Race 1 - JCB Triumph Hurdle - 1.30pm

race1The first race of the day is Grade 1 and is open to horses aged four years. The weight of the horses is eleven stone exactly, though fillies get a seven pound allowance. Like all races on Gold Cup Day this is run on the New Course at Cheltenham. It lasts for two miles and one furlong, with eight fences to be jumped during its course. This is for novice hurdlers only and is, in fact, the leading race in the UK competed in exclusively by juveniles.

Established in 1939 at Hurst Park in Surrey, it moved over to Cheltenham in 1965 and became part of the Festival three years later. The race has endured numerous sponsors over the years, so you may well find it has a different name when you’re looking for it on the race card. The most successful jockey in the Triumph Hurdle is Barry Geraghty, who has won it five times since 2003. As with so many other races, the most successful trainer is Nicky Henderson. He won his first Triumph Hurdle in 1985 and has since won five more.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Defi du Seuil
  • Jockey - Richard Johnson
  • Trainer - Philip Hobbs
  • Overall Prize Money - £120,000 / For The Winner - £68,340

Race 2 - County Handicap Hurdle - 2.10pm

race2Open to horses aged five years and up, this Grade 3 race lasts for two miles and one furlong and has eight fences that must be negotiated. As its name suggests, this is a handicap race so weight allowances are decided upon by the handicapper. Introduced in 1920 and called the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle from 1995 until 2016, this was the final race of the Festival until its position was moved in 2009.

When it comes to looking for a winner in this race then you’ll want to bear in mind that no horse has won it more than once since 1946. The same isn’t true of jockeys, though, with that old Festival favourite Ruby Walsh having picked up four wins over the years. Two different trainers have enjoyed the same number of wins in the race as Walsh, with both Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins sharing the honour. Three of Walsh’s wins came on horses trained by Nicholls and one on a Mullins horse.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Arctic Fire
  • Jockey - Paul Townend
  • Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £90,000 / For The Winner - £45,560

Race 3 - Spa Novices' Hurdle - 2.50pm

race3One of a number of races that was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival when it made the move from three days to four back in 2005, this Grade 1 race takes place over three miles and has twelve hurdles to be cleared. It is for novice hurdlers aged four years and over. Four-year-olds can weigh ten stone eleven pounds and five-year-olds and up can be eleven stone seven pounds, with a seven pound allowance for both fillies and mares.

When the race was first introduced it was considered to be a Grade 2 level race, but it changed to Grade 1 in 2008. That was the same year that Albert Bartlett started sponsoring it and to date it still bears the company’s name. The Novice Hurdle’s leading jockey is Tony McCoy with three wins. Two of those wins came on Black Jack Ketchum and Wichita Lineman, horses trained by Jonjo O’Neill who is the leading trainer in the race thanks to those two victories.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Penhill
  • Jockey - Paul Townend
  • Trainer - Willie Mullins
  • Overall Prize Money - £120,000 / For The Winner - £68,340

Race 4 - The Gold Cup - 3.30pm

race4After all the build-up and all of the waiting, it’s finally time for the main event. This blue riband race is, of course, Grade 1 and takes place over three miles and two and a half furlongs. It has twenty-two fences that need to be jumped before the horses get onto the final straight and it is open to five-year-olds and over. The weight is eleven stone eight pounds or eleven stone ten pounds for horses aged six or more. There’s a seven pound allowance for mares. Considered to be Britain’s most valuable non-handicap chase, the Gold Cup has enjoyed numerous sponsors during its existence.

An event named the Gold Cup was run at Cheltenham for the first time in 1819, but the race as it is today can trace its roots back to 1924 - the first year it featured jumps. We talk about the Gold Cup in more detail elsewhere on the site, so we won’t go into too much detail here. What we will tell you is that it switched to the New Course in 1959 and when Coneygree won it in 2015 that was the first time in forty years that a novice emerged victorious. One of the most famous horses to win it was Arkle and he was ridden by Pat Taaffe, the race’s most successful jockey. Taaffe won it three times on Arkle and once on Fort Leney. Ankle was trained by Tom Dreaper, who is the race’s most victorious trainer thanks to his two other wins with Prince Regent and Fort Leney.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Sizing John
  • Jockey - Robbie Power
  • Trainer - Jessica Harrington
  • Overall Prize Money - £575,000 / For The Winner - £327,326

Race 5 - Foxhunter Chllenge Cup - 4.10pm

race5There’s obviously a slight feeling of 'after the Lord Mayor’s Show' when it comes to the racing in the wake of the Gold Cup, so the Cheltenham organisers have embraced that rather than tried to go against it. The Gold Cup is the last Grade 1 race of the Festival, with the Foxhunter Chase being an ungraded race for amateur riders on horses aged five or older. Having said that, it’s worth noting that it’s run over the same three mile, two and a half furlong circuit as the Gold Cup and the horses still have to jump the same twenty-two fences, leading many people to call it the 'Amateur Gold Cup'.

Horses can weigh eleven stone twelve pounds if they’re five and twelve stone exactly if they’re older, with a seven pound allowance for mares. The race was first run in 1904 - twenty years before the modern day Gold Cup - and horses must qualify to take part in it by performing well during the year. The leading jockey in the race since 1946 is Colman Sweeney with three wins, whilst the leading trainer is Richard Barber who has won it four times.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Pacha Du Polder
  • Jockey - Bryony Frost
  • Trainer - Paul Nicholls
  • Overall Prize Money - £40,000 / For The Winner - £23.984

Race 6 - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - 4.50pm

race6Established in 2009 and named after a hugely successful trainer who decided to retire in 2006 with thirty-four Cheltenham wins under his belt, this race is open to horses aged four-years-old and up. As it’s a handicap race there is no weight restriction per se, with the horses given different handicaps to ensure a level playing field. It is a two mile, four and a half furlong race that has nine different hurdles along the way.

What sets this race apart from others at the Cheltenham Festival is that it is open to conditional jockeys only. For those that don’t know, a conditional jockey is essentially an apprentice jockey who has not won any more than seventy-five times under rules. Because of that no jockey has ever won this race more than once, which is perhaps also why no horse has won it more than once either. Willie Mullins has won it more than any other trainer with his three victories.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Champagne Class
  • Jockey - James Slevin
  • Trainer - Gordon Elliott
  • Overall Prize Money - £60,000 / For The Winner - £31,280

Race 7 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase - 5.30pm

race7Gold Cup Day is finished off with the Grand Annual Chase, the oldest race of the Festival given that it was established in 1834. Johnny Henderson, the father of successful trainer Nicky Henderson, had the race named after him in 2005, two years after his death. This Grade 3 race was moved to the final slot of the Festival in 2009.

Run over two miles and half a furlong and featuring fourteen jumps, this is a handicap race open to five-year-olds and over. Records only date back to 1946, but Graham Bradley is its most successful jockey, having won it four times, whilst both Fulke Walwyn and Paul Nicholls have won it three times as trainers. Fittingly, Nicky Henderson has won it twice.

2017 Winners

  • Horse - Rock the World
  • Jockey - Robbie Power
  • Trainer - Jessica Harrington
  • Overall Prize Money - £100,000 / For The Winner - £51,255

What To Expect On Gold Cup Day

festival 10

Gold Cup Day is the climax to what is always a brilliant few days of racing. It is a spectacle that is a sight to see and you’ll be struck by a sense of how fortunate everyone feels to be there. Day Four of the Festival is the only one that sells out well in advance, with all three of the preceding days still having tickets available of some variety on the day itself. That leads to a bit of a party atmosphere amongst the chosen few who have been able to get themselves tickets and know that they’ll be present when one of the most important races of the year gets underway. Perhaps only the Grand National ranks higher than the Gold Cup in terms of an event that everyone wants to be part of.

Because the day is so popular, you tend to find that the crowd can be much more race-savvy than previous days. That is to say, a lot more of the people in attendance are connected to racing than on days one to three of the Festival, so keep your eye out for former jockeys, trainers and numerous owners. You’ll also find a number of celebrities turn up on Gold Cup Day, with the likes of Lilly Allen, Liv Tyler, former football Jamie Redknapp and actor James Nesbitt all having been known to turn up for the big event. You may also be lucky enough to see some members of the royal family in attendance; Zara Phillips goes every year and Princess Anne often presents the trophy to the winners.

Much like on the other days of the Festival, there are no particularly obvious 'rules' that you need to obey that aren’t pretty standard for any day on a racecourse. If you’re spending the day in a hospitality suite then you’ll likely find that they have their own suggestions for what to wear and how to behave, with the Club Enclosure forbidding fancy dress, for example. The rest of the course is open to such frivolity on the proviso that what you’re wearing can’t be offensive. That said, you’ll probably discover that most men wear suits and most ladies try to be as fashionable as possible. You’ve got a brilliant day in store so don’t overthink things too much and remember to have as much fun as you can!

Conclusion

festival 25

Cheltenham is one of the most enjoyable week’s in the National Hunt racing calendar, with Gold Cup Day being a suitable end to it all. It is a day of excitement, anticipation and top-class racing that will be thrilling to to be at. If you’re fortunate enough to make the final day of the Festival then soak up every minute and you’ll definitely want to be back next year!