In the world of horse racing, horses are run for all sorts of prizes. Obviously money is one of the main things that owners and trainers alike want to see their horses win, but there are also other offerings such as plates and trophies that winning horse can be awarded at the end of a hard fought race. Cups are also high on the list, being attached to some prestigious races.
On the National Hunt’s list of Graded races alone there are 15 different races that are run for a cup and that doesn’t even include the likes of the Jim Ford Challenge Cup and the Greenall Whitley Gold Cup that have been discontinued. On this page we’ll have a look at a selection of those Cups, focusing on those that are run at Cheltenham plus one or two others.
Cup Races At The Cheltenham Festival
|Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase||2m 62y||Grade 3||£108,200|
Foxhunter Challenge Cup
Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase
|3m 2f 70y||Class 2 Chase||£43,500|
|The Cheltenham Gold Cup||3m 2f 70y||Grade 1||£615,000|
|Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup||3m 2f||Class 2 Chase||£67,500|
|Coral Cup||2m 5f||Grade 3||£98,500|
|National Hunt Chase||3m 5f 201y||Grade 2||£120,500|
Cup Races At Other Cheltenham Meetings
|Gold Cup Handicap Chase||2m 4f 127y||Grade 3||£128,000|
|BetVictor Gold Cup||2m 4f 44y||Grade 3||£160,000|
Cheltenham Cup Races
With 15 Cups coming under the auspices of the National Hunt’s most prestigious races, there are plenty of different cup offerings that we could tell you about. Add in Cups raced further afield and there are a huge amount taking place each racing season, bearing in mind that we’re really only interested in jump racing on this page.
When it comes to identifying what makes a race worthy of being run for a Cup, you’ll soon learn that there is no real rhyme or reason behind it. The races are all very different from each other, with the only thing typing them all together being the fact that they’re raced for a Cup as part of the prize at the end of the event.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Where else to start but with the most prestigious race in British jump racing? The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a Grade 1 offering that has 22 fences and is run over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards, being open as it is for horses aged 5 and over with the following weight information at play:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 8 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 11 stone 10 pounds
- Mares are given an allowance of 7 pounds
We’ve written about the Gold Cup elsewhere on this site in far more detail than we can manage here, so instead we’re just going to focus on the Cup aspect of the race. The race was first run as a flat race, taking part on Cleeve Hill in July of 1819. The winner was given 100 guineas and a gold cup for his troubles.
The race became one that was run over jumps in 1924, when it took place on the Cheltenham Racecourse Old Course and there was an actual Gold Cup trophy rewarded to the winner. The trophy itself was essentially a large bowl with horses’ heads on either side as handles, sat atop a plinth. Weighing 644 grams, it was made of 9 carat gold and plated in 18 carat gold.
The trophy went missing and was only returned to Cheltenham Racecourse in September of 2018 (pictured top of this page). That was when a private owner approached the course with it, having kept it in a bank vault since the 1970s. Cheltenham had been presenting winners with a different trophy since 1972, but began using the original again from 2019 onwards.
The next Cup to look at is from another event that takes place during the Cheltenham Festival, the Coral Cup. A Grade 3 race open to horses aged 4 and over, it is run as a handicap over 2 miles and 5 furlongs. There are 10 hurdles to be jumped during the race, so you can already see how different it is from the Gold Cup run at the end of the meeting.
First run in 1993, it has always been sponsored by the bookmaker Coral, which explains its title. Olympian was the first horse to win the race and, upon doing so, was presented with a bonus prize of £50,000. This is because the horse had also won the Imperial Cup the previous weekend. That is run a Sandown over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 213 yards and is also a Grade 3 race.
The Coral Cup was given its Grade 3 status in 1999. It is one of the most competitive handicap races run during the National Hunt season. The cup itself is an odd looking thing, essentially being a massive silver bowl sitting on top of what looks a bit like a double helix spiral. It might look odd, but that doesn’t mean that recipients are any less interested in holding it aloft post-race.
BetVictor Gold Cup
Whilst we’re talking about the Gold Cup, it’s worth mentioning the other races that have the same name. One such example is the Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup, which is run over 2 miles and 4 and a half furlongs. It’s a handicap race with sixteen fences that need to be jumped during its running and takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse every November.
Established in 1960, it was sponsored by Mackeson and known by most people as the Mackeson Gold Cup until the company’s sponsorship ended in 1995. Since then there have been numerous different sponsors offering their name to the Cup’s title, with the bookmaker BetVictor taking over the honour in 2016.
A number of horses have won the race twice, including Fortria and Gay Trip. Imperial Commander won the race in 2008 and went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later, so you can see why the event is held in such high regard within the horse racing community. The trophy itself has a large base, thin handles and an urn-type shape to the main body.
December Gold Cup
Inaugurated in 1963, this is another handicap race and is open to horses aged 4 and over. It is run over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 127 yards, boasting 17 fences during that distance. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse and is part of the Saturday of the International Meeting. It is a Grade 3 race.
That doesn’t include the actual December Cup that winners are presented with, of course. The race was initially sponsored by Massey Ferguson and therefore known as the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup, keeping this title until 1980. There have been numerous sponsored titles since then, with the race taking on the moniker of the Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup briefly in 2005.
Horses that have previously run in the BetVictor Gold Cup often go on to compete in this race, with Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti and Exotic Dancer being examples of horses that have won both Cups in the same season. The actual cup isn’t gold, but is instead silver. There is a large base bearing the names of previous winners, with the main body looking like a rugby ball and a jumping horse on its top.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Another Festival favourite, the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup was established as the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Steeplechase in 1946. The name of Fulke Walwyn was added to its title in 1991 in honour of the trainer who secured 40 Festival wins and 211 victories at Cheltenham Racecourse. It is a handicap race open to horses aged 5 and over.
As you might have imagined from its original title, it is only open to amateur riders who must steer their charges over 21 fences during the race’s 3 mile and 2 furlong distance. The cup itself is somewhat akin to the FA Cup, being a large bulbous thing with horses appearing to run around its central section and large handles either side.
Foxhunter Challenge Cup
The St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, to give the race its full title, was first run in 1904. It is run over the same course and the same distance as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but differs from the main race because it is only open to amateur jockeys. They must lead their horses over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards and have them jump 22 fences in order to win.
The horses can be 5 or older and the following weight information applies:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 12 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 12 stone 0 pounds
- Mares receive a 7 pound allowance
The race has had numerous sponsors over the years, with St. James’s Place plc taking over the honour in 2016. In order to qualify to take part in the race, a horse has to have done well in specific race types within a certain period. They need to have done one of the following:
- Finished either 1st or 2nd in a hunters’ chase twice
- Won two open point-to-point races
- Won one open point-to-point race and finished either first or second in a hunters’ chase
The actual cup presented to the winners of the Foxhunter Challenge Cup is incredibly impressive. From ground to floor it is about half the height of the jockeys that get to hoist it above their heads. Made of silver and with a small base, the main body takes up most of the trophy’s size and there are two big handles on either side. There is a small horse on the top of the trophy, too.
Other Cup Race Examples
There are a large number of cups races for outside of Cheltenham, so here’s a couple of examples from further afield.
The Summer Cup is run at Uttoxeter Racecourse as a handicap outing. It is open to horses aged 5 and older and takes place over a distance of 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 13 yards. There are 19 fences to be jumped during the race, which is a Listed offering and was first run at the turn of the millennium. Back then it was known as the Summer National.
It was originally run over a distance of 4 miles, though it was dropped to 3 and a half miles in 2009. It got its current length in 2012, which was also when it was rebranded as the Summer Cup. The cup itself is another huge one, being more like an oversized silver jug than a cup. The body is bigger than a person’s head, with a large handle and a jumping horse on the lid.
Breeders’ Cup Grand National Steeplechase
Moving away from England, the Breeders’ Cup has an official name of the Grand National Hurdle Stakes. It is run at Far Hills in New Jersey in the United States of America. Taking place over just shy of 3 miles, it is open to horses aged 4 and up and has the following weight information:
- 4-year-olds: 148 pounds
- 5-year-olds and over: 156 pounds
The Grade 1 race can trace its history back to 1899 when it was run at Morris Park Racecourse. To give you an insight into how important it is to American racing, 11 of the 14 steeplechasers that have been inducted into the National Museum Of Racing And Hall Of Fame have been winners of this event. Battleship is the only horse to have won this race and the Aintree Grand National.
It is one of the most important steeplechases outside of Europe and the day that it takes place on has another seven races on the card. The race should not be confused with the Breeders’ Cup, which is a world championship made up of several races. That was a single day even originally but has now grown to have a second day. The Grand National isn’t one of those races.
That might be confusing, but it was known as the Breeders’ Cup Grand National Steeplechase thanks to a licensing agreement between the Breeders’ Cup and the National Steeplechase Association, though the race itself was never part of the Breeders’ Cup series.
Punchestown Gold Cup
The final race with Gold Cup in the title that we’re going to tell you about is the one run at Punchestown in Ireland during the Punchestown Festival. That usually takes place in late April or the early part of May and the current version of the race was first run in 1999. That was when it replaced a race of the same name that was for novice chasers only.
The modern version of the race is for horses aged 5 and up and has the following weight information attached:
- 5-year-olds: 11 stone 5 pounds
- 6-year-olds and over: 11 stone 10 pounds
- Mares are given an allowance of 7 pounds
Run over 3 miles and 120 yards, there are 17 fences to be jumped during that time. It has been known by numerous names over the years, including the Heineken Gold Cup. Typically it tends to feature horses that have already run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup earlier in the season, with Sizing John managing to win both events in the same year in 2017.
As you might imagine for an event that features previous runners in Cheltenham’s Gold Cup, the race’s prestige is not to be under-estimated. Previous winners include such well-known names as Neptune Collonges, Sir Des Champs and Don Cossack. The actual cup can best be described as a heavily decorated massive gold tankard with a lid.