The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most famous horse racing meetings in the world for good reason. Everywhere you look there are brilliant races on the race card, filled with prestige and top of any trainer’s list of ones that they want to win. There are races aimed at younger horses, ones aimed at fillies and others open to older horses, making it a meeting for everyone.
During the course of the Cheltenham Festival’s existence there have been some horses that stand out more than others. We’re talking about the ones that simply love life in Prestbury Park and have won at the racecourse several times. The list on this page is entirely random and we’re not giving more weight to one race over another, instead simply looking at the horses that have won the most.
It’s difficult not to put a horse that has a race at the Festival named in his honour right at the top of our list. Born in Ireland in 1957, this bay gelding might well have been fancied for flat racing initially. After all, his grandsire, Nearco, was unbeaten in fourteen races on the flat. Instead he was turned to jump racing and won his first race at Cheltenham in the Broadway Chase.
That is now known as the RSA Novices’ Chase, with Arkle winning it by twenty lengths. After losing out to Mill House in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newmarket in 1963, Arkle gained his revenge when he defeated his nemesis in the Gold Cup at Prestbury Park the following year. He came home at odds at 7/4 and never again started a race as anything other than the favourite.
Such was his success that the racing authorities in Ireland decided to create two weight systems for the Irish Grand National; one would be used when Arkle was running and the other when he wasn’t. He won two more Gold Cups at the Cheltenham Festival and is considered to be one of the best horses every to take part in the sport.
That is reflected by the fact that his Timeform rating of 212 is the highest such rating ever given to a steeplechaser. Head to Cheltenham Racecourse and you’ll see Arkle’s name everywhere you turn, not least in the title of the Arkle Challenge Trophy. It was introduced to the Festival in 1969 and has taken pride of place on the opening day of the meeting since 1980.
If Arkle wasn’t going to be at the top of this list then Golden Miller is the only horse that could have stood in his way. Bred in 1927, his sire was Goldcourt, who never raced himself but who also sired two Irish Grand National winners. His debut in steeplechasing came at Newbury Racecourse in 1931 when he won the race but was disqualified for carrying the wrong weight.
It was a sign of things to come, not in the sense of him being disqualified from future races but of him winning again and again. He was a truly exceptional horse in 1930s Britain, winning the Gold Cup five times consecutively between 1932 and 1936. In terms of horses that will forever be remembered, the one that set the record for Gold Cup wins will always be on the list.
Another reason for Golden Miller’s place in the record books is the fact that he is the only horse in history to have won both the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and the Grand National at Aintree in the same year. That was 1934, when he was in the middle of his Prestbury Park wins and was virtually untouchable. He’d started as the favourite in the National the year before but fell at the Canal Turn.
His place in Cheltenham folklore is well-earned and won’t quickly be forgotten. As with Arkle, there are references to him everywhere you turn when you’re at Cheltenham Racecourse, including a race named after him. Horses about to take part in a Festival race know exactly what it is that they’re up against, given that they have to walk around a statue of Golden Miller at the parade ring there.
Having said in the introduction that the horses would be written about in no particular order, there’s no question that Arkle and Golden Miller deserved to be put front and centre. In terms of a horse that could challenge them if the specific race they won wasn’t given any weight, however, there’s no doubt that Quevega would be high on the list.
The French-bred and Irish-trained mare is one of Willie Mullins’ most successful horses, which is saying something when you look at the list of names that the trainer has worked with. Her sire, Robin des Champs, is also responsible for bringing top chaser Sir Des Champs into the world of horse racing, so it’s fair to say that she’s from good pedigree.
When she won the newly established Mares’ Hurdle in 2009, no one could have predicted that she would go on to dominate the race for years to come. Such was her dominance, in fact, that she won the race five more times in succession and overtook Golden Miller’s Festival record of five successive wins in the same race.
One of the most successful mares that Prestbury Park has ever seen, she complimented this by winning the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown four times during the same era. It might have been five times if not for Jetson’s victory in the race in 2014. It is unquestionably her exploits at Cheltenham that have seen her earn her place in the record books, however.
Foaled on the 16th of April 2003, this bay / brown gelding was trained by Paul Nicholls until his retirement in March of 2014. Born in France, Big Buck’s raced thirteen times in his native country, winning twice. Upon coming over to England he won the Mar-key Group Beginner’s Chase, which involved beating the Queen’s Barbers Shop in the process.
His first experience of the Cheltenham Festival came in 2008’s Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase. Though he came seventh, it gave him a taste of life in Gloucestershire and when he returned the following year he was ready, beating Don’t Push It in the World Hurdle. It was the start of what was to come, with the horse developing an unrivalled relationship with the race.
Another three consecutive wins in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham were matched with wins in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree and the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury during the same time period. On top of that there were also three consecutive wins in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in 2009, 2010 and 2011, along with Cleeve Hurdle victories in 2009 and 2012.
It was his fourth win in the World Hurdle in 2012 that put him into the history books, however, confirming his place as one of the world’s greatest ever staying hurdlers. Whilst the rogue apostrophe in his name might always annoy those who love grammar, he’ll be remembered instead for his exploits in the Cheltenham Festival.
Foaled in Ireland in 1992, Istabraq was a bay gelding that seemingly had the world at his feet and proved it during a 1990s in which there was barely a race that he didn’t win. Trained by Aidan O’Brien and owned by J. P. McManus, he developed a relationship with Charlie Swan who rode him in all 29 of the jump races that he was involved in.
The thing that makes Istabraq’s success over jumps is the fact that he was actually bred to run on the flat, with his sire being the world famous Sadler’s Wells. He made his debut in hurdling in 1996 at Punchestown and was then gelded prior to his next race. He was in good form heading into the 1998 Cheltenham Festival, winning the Champion Hurdle by 12 lengths.
Having already got a taste for success at Prestbury Park in the 1997 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, Istabraq soon became synonymous with the Champion Hurdle after winning it three times in succession. That gave him a total of four wins at the Cheltenham Festival, seeing his name written up alongside some famous horses.
Other races like the Irish Champion Hurdle, the December Festival Hurdle and the John James McManus Memorial Hurdle were added to his roster, over the years, but it will always be his success at Cheltenham that he will be remembered for. A life in the flat might have been the plan initially, but instead he’ll always be associated with the greatest jumps course that there is.
A bay gelding foaled in 1963, Persian War had numerous different trainers during his life. Bred by Astor Studs, his sire came from solid stock, being the son of a Triple Crown winner. Part of the reason why he might have been passed around trainers could be down to the fact that he showed little promise as a youngster, with the decision to geld him aimed at seeing an improvement.
Having begun life on the flat, his debut in the world of hurdling came at Ascot during the 1966-1967 season. He took to it brilliantly, soon earning a reputation as one of the best hurdling juveniles on the circuit. That was solidified thanks to his Triumph Hurdle win at the Cheltenham Festival in 1967, defeating Te Fou, a horse that had beaten him in earlier races.
It was the start of a journey that would see Persian War go on to be considered one of the greatest hurdlers of all time. This was largely thanks to three wins in succession in the Champion Hurdle, with the horse being victorious in 1968, 1969 and 1970. One of his trainers, Colin Davis, called him ‘the ultimate champion’ as a result of his exploits.
There is a thought from some within the industry that Persian War could have gone on to achieve even greater jump racing feats if not for the interfering nature of his owner. Henry Alper was responsible for the constant chopping and changing of his trainers, meaning that there was never any real consistency to his work. Even so, his Cheltenham exploits ensured his place in history.
The Champion Hurdle is considered to be one of the most prestigious hurdling events that the National Hunt are responsible for. If Istabraq and Person War deserve their place on this list then there’s no doubt that there need to be room for Sir Ken, too. A quick look at the list of winners for the race will put the three of them at the top alongside Hatton’s Grace and See You Then.
In fact, many would argue that Sir Ken’s overall Festival achievements mean that he should be positioned higher on the list, if we were giving the races any kind of weight to how the list is compiled. After all, Istabraq won the Champion Hurdle three times, as did Sir Ken, but his fourth Cheltenham win came in the less prestigious Royal & Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle.
Sir Ken, on the other hand, actually went up in races in terms of the prestige attached. Having won the Champion Hurdle three times between 1952 and 1954, he then returned to the Festival in in 1956 and won the Cotswold Chase. That is a race now named after Arkle, which gives you an impression of how highly it is thought of in racing circles.
Given that only seven horses have won at the Festival on more than three occasions in all races and Sir Ken is one of them, it’s not outrageous to suggest that he’s earned his place on the list of brilliant horses. Though he won other races during his career, his relationship with the Gloucestershire course was a special one and will forever be remembered as such.
Sometimes horses are known because of their exploits, sometimes it’s because of their name. On rare occasions a horse can be known for both reasons, with Willie Wumpkins falling into that latter category. Obviously Willie Wumpkins is an excellent moniker to be handed to a horse, but he did well to ensure that he lived up to the hype once he took to the field.
His first win came in the race that was known at the time as the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, which he won as a 5-year-old. That trace was later retitled and is known nowadays as the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle. It proved to be catalyst for great things from Willie Wumpkins, who many feared would live a short life after picking up an injury in 1974.
However, the horse had no interest in being a side note in Cheltenham Festival history and instead returned to Prestbury Park in 1979 and won the Grade 3 Pertemps Final. That race had been established five years earlier as a replacement for the George Duller Handicap Hurdle and it is served by a series of qualifying races in the seasonal build-up.
Nowadays it is a Grade 3 race, though it was a Listed offering between 1979 and 1981 when Willie Wumpkins won it three times in succession. It moved him into a small club of horses that have won four times or more during the Cheltenham Festival’s illustrious history. Little wonder it’s not just his name that he’s remembered for by National Hunt jump racing lovers.
Foaled on the 6th of May 2010, Altior was a bay gelding that took jump racing by storm. He was bred in Ireland and joined Nicky Henderson’s yard after being bought by Patricia Pugh in 2013. He began his racing life by taking part in National Hunt flat races, garnering a solid working relationship with Nico de Boinville that would continue throughout his career.
His first win at the Festival came about in 2016 when he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The following year he was moved up to run in the Arkle Chase, producing a performance that industry experts referred to as little short of ‘devastating’. Obviously he needed to be moved up a level, so in 2018 it was decided that he would run in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Once again Altior proved his worth, winning the leading minimum-distance chase that the National Hunt offers before coming back the following year to defend it easily enough. The following month he went off to Aintree and won the Celebration Chase, breaking the record by winning 19 jump races run succession.
When Altior returned to the Cheltenham Festival in 2020 he did so no longer as the favourite for the races that he was entered into, losing his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown to Politologue. Even so, two wins in that along with victories in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Challenge Trophy mean that he won’t be forgotten by jump racing lovers any time soon.
The presence of Tiger Roll on this list is fascinating on account of the fact that he is actually more closely associated with a race that isn’t part of the Cheltenham Festival. His back-to-back wins in the Grand National at Aintree in 2018 and 2019 put him up alongside Red Rum as one of the race’s best ever victors, sealing his place in the history books accordingly.
Even so, there’s an argument that his successes at Prestbury Park set him up for his Grand National exploits, with his first win coming in the Triumph Hurdle in 2014. That race is for juvenile hurdlers and he followed it up three years later with a win in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup. They’re tough races to win, proving Tiger Roll’s mettle for what was to come.
Having been bred for the flat originally, there was concern that he wouldn’t really maker it over jumps when his success in the Triumph Hurdle was followed by a somewhat chequered hurdling career in the years that followed. When he was six it was decided to move him into the world of chasing, which was where he proved his talent wasn’t a flash in the pan.
His win in the Grade 2 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase in 2017 was the start, but it was the victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase the following year that prepared him for the Grand National win a month later. That he recreated the trick the following year is what puts him in a bracket of sheer brilliant as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned.
The 2020 Grand National was called off denying Tiger Roll the chance for an unprecedented three in a row. The horse was withdrawn from the 2021 Grand National due to its owners not liking the weight allowance given by the handicapper. Most saw Tiger Roll as past it, that was until he romped home by several lengths to win the Cross Country Chase again in 2021 to make him the most successful hoses ever in the race. If he couldn’t have 3 National wins at least he got his 3 cross-country wins at the Festival.