Day Four of the Cheltenham Festival is all about one race and one race only: The Gold Cup. It’s the premier race of the entire week, causing untold excitement and bringing in the attention of millions of racing lovers from around the globe. Before we get there, though, there are a number of races that crank the excitement level up notch by notch. The first race of the day is the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle, with the races getting better and better as the day goes on.
The Triumph Hurdle was run for the first time in 1939 at Hurst Park in Surrey. It didn’t get a transfer to Cheltenham until 1965 and soon after the move it gained sponsorship from the Daily Express. In 1997 the race’s sponsorship was taken over by Elite Racing Club, lasting five years before JCB took on the role of sponsors in 2002. Initially the race was run in Cheltenham’s April meeting but shifted to the Festival in 1968.
|Course||Grade||Fences||Distance (m)||Winner / Purse|
|New Course||Grade 1||8||2m 179y (3382m)||£70,338 / £120,000|
From the start of Day Three, all races in the Festival are run on the New Course and the Triumph Hurdle is no exception. Much like all of the other races that take place over the week, this one is run left-handed.
It is a race for novice hurdlers aged four-years-old and many consider it to be the leading event for juveniles in the National Hunt calendar. Run over two miles and one furlong, it has eight hurdles and the weight restriction is eleven stone exactly. There’s an allowance of seven pound for fillies.
Because the race is only open to horses that are aged four, none have ever won it more than once, for rather obvious reasons. As you’ll already have gathered, the same can not be said for the jockeys that have taken part in the race. Charlie Swan, Fred Winter, Richard Dunwoody, Robert Thornton and Steve Smith Eccles have all won it twice, whilst Richard Johnson and Jimmy Uttley have managed three victories apiece. That is as nothing, however, when compared to the five wins that Barry Geraghty has notched up during his career. That includes back-to-back victories in 2009 and 2010 and then again in 2015 and 2016.
It’s a race that trainers have tended to win more than once, too. Double wins have been managed by Alan King, David Elsworth, David Nicholson, Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls, Peter Thrale, Ron Smyth, Staff Ingham and Stan Mellor, for example. Ryan Price, Philip Hobbs, and Fred Rimell have all won it three times. Yet the leader in the race by some considerable distance is Nicky Henderson with seven victories, winning his first Triumph Hurdle in 1985 and his most recent in 2019. He shared three of those wins win Barry Geraghty, if you’re interested.
It is not unknown for winners of the Triumph Hurdle to then go on and do well in the Champion Hurdle, the premier race of Day One of the Cheltenham Festival. Clair Soleil won this in 1953 before winning the Champion Hurdle in 1955, for example. Persian War was a 1967 Triumph winner before succeeding in the Champion three years running, from 1968 to 1970. Kribensis won the Triumph Hurdle in 1988 then the Champion Hurdle in 1990, whilst Katchit is the most recent horse to do that particular double thanks to wins in 2007 and then 2008.
CBO Rating 8/10
Yes, Day Four of the Festival is all about the Gold Cup, but goodness have the organisers decided to get things going in style. This Grade 1 race promises a decent amount of excitement, with young horses just learning the ropes of huge events like this liable to provide a reasonably open field. Whether you’re a Cheltenham regular, attending for the first time or merely watching at home, this is a race that will get you in the mood for the day ahead.
Races featuring juveniles are, by definition, ones for both the present and the future. Given that this is the first race of the day, you can take that whichever way you want. Watching this race will give you a clue about how the going will be for the rest of the day, of course. But more importantly the winner of this race could go on to do good things in the hurdling world, not least of all in the Champion Hurdle in future festivals.
One of the key questions everyone attending or watching Cheltenham asks on Day Four is, ‘What time is the Gold Cup?’ Feel free to get swept up in the excitement, but don’t think that the race the day is named after is the only one worth watching. The Triumph Hurdle is a fascinating watch.