There are two moments that horse racing fans celebrate the arrival of almost as much as seeing their chosen horse win a race: the start of the Cheltenham Festival and the arrival of Gold Cup day. Whilst the Festival is unquestionably full of brilliant races, there’s no doubt that the Gold Cup is the most prestigious of the lot.
First run in 1924, it is rivalled only by the Grand National in terms of being a race that even those with only a passing interest in horse racing will watch with interest. That’s not surprising, of course, when you think that the list of horses that have won the race includes names like Golden Miller, Arkle and Denman.
Yet the day that the Gold Cup is run on isn’t limited to just that one event. Instead there are brilliant races throughout the day, promising punters some brilliant entertainment and chance after chance to take on the bookmakers. Things kick off with the Triumph Hurdle, for example, whilst the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is always a headline grabber.
Three races either side of the Gold Cup tells you how important the main race is, though. There are three appetisers and three desserts, but there’s only one main course. The rest of the week, as glorious as it is, has been building up to that and it’s offered the more discerning bettor the chance to check out both the Going and what the trainers have been doing to prepare.
Going, Weather Forecast & Ground Conditions
The weather in the build-up to the Festival’s start was wet without ever really being torrential. It meant that the Going was presumed to be Heavy but in the end turned out to be Soft on Champion Day, Soft to Good in places. A relatively dry Ladies Day helped on that front, with rain not coming in any convincing manner until the evening.
The rain continued in fits and spurts through St. Patrick’s Day but the forecast for Gold Cup Day is for it to be dry pretty much all the way through. It is likely to be a bit colder than any of the other days, but that’s more relevant to what sort of outfit racegoers should work rather than whether it will make much of a different to the horses and jockeys.
The good news when it comes to the Going is that the New Course won’t have had the same pounding that the Old Course did when the ground was it is softest, on account of the switch not happening until Thursday every year. That means that it will have had a chance to firm up a little bit and Good to Soft is almost certainly what the Going will be.
Gold Cup Day Betting, Tips & Race Previews
The beauty of Gold Cup Day is that everyone is more than aware what the main focus is – the day is named after it for goodness sake – but that doesn’t take away from the other races that are run. They provide a chance for everyone to have a punt or two whilst also getting a sense of how the Going is and what the course is running like. Here’s a look at them all.
Run over 2 miles and 179 yards and presenting the horses with 8 hurdles to negotiate, the Triumph Hurdle kicks of the final day of the Festival. The Grade 1 race is open to horses aged 4 and has weight information of 11 stone, with fillies given a 7 pound allowance. It’s the leading race in the country that exclusive to juveniles.
It was first run at Hurst Park Racecourse in Surrey before moving to Cheltenham in 1965. No jockey has won the race more times than Barry Geraghty and no trainer has been more successful in it than Nicky Henderson, so the fact that the former is riding on A Wave Of The Sea and the latter doesn’t have any horses entered this year is interesting.
The team of Jamie and Gary Moore have brought French horse Goshen to the party and that’s many people’s favourite for this race. Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead are a good partnership, though, so they’ll be hoping that Aspire Tower can spring a surprise for the Irish. 4 of the previous 7 winners were Irish, so stranger things have happened.
- Winner Tip: Goshen
- Each-Way Bet: Aspire Tower
Run over 2 miles and 179 yards and with 8 hurdles to jump, the County Handicap Hurdle is similar to the Triumph Hurdle in that sense. The biggest differences are that this race is for horses aged 5 and over and is a Grade 3 rather than a Grade 1. The weights are provided by the handicapper rather than according to any given rules and regulations.
Dan Skelton has trained three of the last four winners of this race, with Harry Skelton on the back of Ch’tibello in 2019. Perhaps that’s why Mohaayed is one of the horses that the early betting went on, even if Bridget Andrews has replaced Harry in the saddle. If you’re after a family connection then you could opt for either Beat The Judge or Sir Valentine.
The latter horse is from the Sam and Nigel Twiston-Davies team, whilst the former is ridden by Joshua Moore and trained by Gary Moore. That being said, it’s only really Sir Valentine that many are giving a chance. Willie Mullins is the joint-top trainer for the race heading into the 2020 renewal, which is why plenty of money will be on Ciel De Neige.
- Winner Tip: Ciel De Neige
- Each-Way Bet: Sir Valentine
Officially registered as the Spa Novices’ Hurdle but better known as the Albert Bartlett thanks to sponsorship, the third race of the day is a Grade 1 offering that is run over 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards. It’s for horses aged 4 and over with the following weight information attached:
- 4-year-olds: 10 stone 11 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 11 stone 7 pounds
- Fillies and mares receive a 7 pound allowance
There are 12 hurdles to jump during the course of the race, so it’s a good test for the novice hurdlers. It was a Grade 2 race when it was first introduced as part of the Festival’s move to include a fourth day in 2005, being shifted up to Grade 1 in 2008. Rachael Blackmore won the race on Minella Indo in 2019, so Cobbler’s Way will be fancied this time out.
It’s Thyme Hill that will be the horse to beat, though, with Richard Johnson hoping to get another Cheltenham win under his belt. If you’re looking for a punt that might be a little bit more value then you can’t go too far wrong with Harry Senior. He won here in January in a Grade 2 and the length of this race promises to be a good test for him.
- Winner Tip: Thyme Hill
- Each-Way Bet: Harry Senior
It’s finally here, so make sure you have a good old look at the form book. The Gold Cup is run over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards, asking the horses to jump a gruelling 22 fences. It’s open to horses aged 5 and up, with 5-year-olds getting 11 stone and 8 pounds, horses aged 6 and over 11 stone 10 pounds and mares getting a 7 pound allowance.
Al Boum Photo won the race for Willie Mullins last year, giving the Irish trainer his first win in the race. That’s remarkable when you think about just how dominant Mullins has been at the Cheltenham Festival overall. There are many that believe that Al Boum Photo will make it two wins in succession this year, becoming the first horse since Best Mate to do so.
If Al Boum Photo doesn’t do it for Mullins then Kemboy might, having been well-fancied to win this race last year. He unseated his rider at the first, which is why he wasn’t part of the conversation at the business end. Having won 7 of his 13 races run over fences, though, he could return to form this time out.
Of course, neither Al Boum Photo nor Kemboy are going to give you particularly good Each-Way odds, so it’s worth looking further afield for that. Only 7 of the past 23 winners weren’t from Ireland, so Lostintranslation is definitely worth considering under the guidance of Robbie Power. Santini is also worth a look, wearing cheekpieces for Nicky Henderson.
- Winner Tip: Al Boum Photo
- Each-Way Bet: Lostintranslation
The Foxhunter Challenge Cup is run over the same distance as the Gold Cup, with the same 22 fences also present during the 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards. That’s why it is considered by many to be the ‘Amateur Gold Cup’, given that the race is only open to amateur jockeys. The horses can be 5 or older, with the following weight information:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 12 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 12 stone 0 pounds
- Mares receive a 7 pound allowance
First run in 1904, Paul Nicholls is the most successful trainer of the modern era, winning it in two of the last three outings. His big hope for this year’s Foxhunter Chase is Alcala, a French horse. Billaway is the favourite, though, with Willie Mullins hoping that Patrick Mullins can add another win to his roster. Minella Rocco is also one to watch.
- Winner Tip: Billaway
- Each-Way Bet: Alcala
The Grand Annual is the oldest race run at the Festival, established as it was in 1834. The race was named after Nicky Henderson’s dad Johnny in 2005. It takes place over 2 miles and 62 yards, with 14 jumps to test the horses. It’s for horses aged 5 and over and is a Grade 3 handicap offering. Once again it’s Paul Nicholls that is the most successful modern trainer.
Nicholls has got two entrants for the 2020 renewal, with Capeland being ridden by Bryony Frost and Harry Cobden riding Greaneteen. They’re both French horses, in case you’re keen on looking for an Irish runner. In terms of stats, only 1 of the previous 14 winners had won their previous race, whilst 14 of the last 16 had ridden at the Festival prior to running in this race.
It’s Greaneteen that many people are looking to as the favourite, having impressed at Ascot and Musselburgh. Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott might have something to say about that, with Chosen Mate looking useful over hurdles. Eclair De Beaufeu is another Gordon Elliott entry, ticking the box of riding at Cheltenham in the past but being a question mark after winning the last race.
- Winner Tip: Greaneteen
- Each-Way Bet: Chosen Mate
Martin Pipe was a succesful trainer who retired from the business in 2006 and three years later had this race named after him when it was introduced to the Festival. It’s a handicap race that is open to horses aged 4 and up and is run over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 56 yards. The race is only open to conditional jockeys, with Willie Mullins being the top trainer.
The field for the Martin Pipe is invariably large, which means that picking a winner can be tricky. It also tends to mean that there’s decent value to be found, though, especially as only 1 of the last 11 winners was the favourite for the race. 10 of the previous 11 winners were aged either 5 or 6, which might be worth bearing in mind when you’re looking at the form book.
Mullins has three entries this year, with the French horse Five O’Clock being his best shot at adding another win to his tally. He’s not got many miles in his legs, coming in as a 5-year-old compared to Gordon Elliott’s Column Of Fire who is 6. It’s Joseph O’Brien’s Front View, another French horse, that most think is the horse to beat this time out though.
- Winner Tip: Front View
- Each-Way Bet: Five O’Clock
Cheltenham Day 4 Betting Summary
All eyes are understandably on the Gold Cup on the day named in its honour, but there are plenty of chances to take on the bookies elsewhere on the race card. The talk around the Cheltenham Festival is normally about the English versus the Irish, but there are a couple of decent French horses that are looking to nuzzle in on the action this time around.
There’s so much to love about the Cheltenham Festival, with most of it summed up quite nicely on Gold Cup Day. From chances to see novices put to the test through to opportunities to learn about amateur and conditional jockeys, it’s a day that can often be a good leveller between bettors and bookmakers.