Four Of The Best Cheltenham Gold Cup Winners

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the biggest race in National Hunt horse racing, and those that are successful are added to the history books immediately. This race has a rich history that dates all the way back to 1819 when it was actually first run as a flat contest.

With the event fast approaching, we’ve decided to look back at the four best and most-loved horses to ever to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Golden Miller

With five Gold Cups to his name, Golden Miller is arguably the best horse to ever win the prestigious National Hunt contest. The chaser was first successful in 1932 and went on to prevail in the next four renewals of the race.

His most famous success was in 1934 when he made history that season to become the first horse to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year. Given how close they are to each other on the calendar, success in both of the big staying contests has proved too far for so many horses over the years, but the bay gelding not only landed the Aintree showpiece race, he broke the course record in doing so.

Golden Miller proved to be a natural over fences early in his career. Like Altior today, who remains unbeaten in his chase career, he cleared obstacles so well that he made ground on his rivals at every fence.

When he retired in 1939, Golden Miller had won 29 of his 52 races. A statue was erected near the parade ring of Cheltenham Racecourse to honour one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time. It is very difficult to see any horse coming close to even threatening his record in the biggest race of the Festival.

Arkle

The 1964 Gold Cup was dubbed as Great Britain vs Ireland as Mill House took on Arkle in a fantastic showdown that captured so much attention outside of racing. Arkle, a hero back in Ireland, won that contest in impressive fashion to establish himself as the new star of the sport on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Success in the Blue Riband contest did not end there for Arkle as he returned in 1965 to defend his crown, while a hat-trick of wins followed in 1966 to help him cement his legacy as one of the best to ever appear in the race.

Four Of The Best Cheltenham Gold Cup Winners

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Unfortunately, injury cut short Arkle’s career in National Hunt racing, but even to this day, his memory lives on in the form of the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival, which was won in 2018 by Footpad. At his peak in Ireland, the horse would receive thousands of letters each year, and so often the envelopes would be addressed to ‘Himself, Ireland’, such was his status.

Desert Orchid

Desert Orchid, or Dessie as he was commonly known by his army of fans, was one of the most popular horses of his generation. The grey had lots of success in the sport, most notably though at Kempton, which was considered his favourite racecourse since he won the King George VI Chase four times.

The 3 mile 2 furlong-trip in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham was thought to be a little outside of Dessie’s stamina range, and when it rained on the day of the 1989 renewal of the race his participation seemed to be in doubt. Connections opted to take their chance even though his odds were on the drift, and they were rewarded as their horse showed how big his heart was by winning the race for the first time.

His success in the 1989 Gold Cup is often voted as one of the greatest ever moments in the sport and is played back each year before the big race. As a former winner of the Tingle Creek Chase over 2 miles, Dessie had a fantastic versatility about him. Kempton will always be seen as his home, but he produced his finest moment at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup.

Best Mate

The closest any horse has come to getting anywhere near to Golden Miller’s record in the Gold Cup is Best Mate, who many consider a little unlucky not to have won more than his impressive feat of three successes in the race.

Best Mate was first successful in the Gold Cup in 2002. He returned in 2003 and 2004 to win at those renewals of the contest. Unfortunately, he was denied the chance to win the race in 2001 as the meeting was abandoned due to the foot and mouth crisis, while in 2005 he was forced to withdraw from the race as he broke a blood vessel on the gallops just before the meeting.

Four Of The Best Cheltenham Gold Cup Winners

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To be able to match Arkle’s three Gold Cups though was a great achievement, and it is no surprise that that horse was so well loved with the racing public. In his 22 racecourse starts, he did not fall once over hurdles or fences, while winning 14 of those outings and racking up over £1 million in prize money.

When he died in 2005, Best Mate’s ashes were buried beside the winning post at Cheltenham Racecourse, where he had his greatest moments on the track.

This year’s Gold Cup takes place on March 15th, where Native River will be bidding to become the first horse to retain his crown in the race since Best Mate in 2004.

A Cheltenham great: Sprinter Sacre

When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, Sprinter Sacre has to be one of the first horses which springs to mind. With twelve major wins under his belt, he’s simply without question one of the greatest jump horses of the last decade.

It was clear for all to see that trainer Nicky Henderson had a special horse when Sprinter Sacre bolted up on only his third ever hurdle race at Ascot in 2010. It was almost decided there and then that he would be heading to the Cheltenham Festival that season, where he was entered into the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

A Cheltenham great: Sprinter Sacre

Source: Sprinter Sacre by Carine06 via Flickr (CC BY SA-2.0)

 

Despite all the hype, a major blunder three furlongs out meant that Sprinter Sacre could only manage third place. However, this was an early sign he would have an illustrious career.

Two years on, having won the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury under Barry Geraghty, Nicky Henderson entered his superstar into the Arkle Challenge Trophy, facing the likes of Al Ferof, Menorah and Cue Card.

No mistakes were made on this occasion and the race was never in doubt, with Sprinter Sacre leaving Cue Card seven lengths behind, although this could have been at least 20 if it wasn’t for Geraghty deciding to virtually crawl over the finish line.

Sprinter Sacre was branded as “The Special One” after the race by his jockey, who had simply stunned the Cheltenham crowd on his return to the track after a two-year absence.

Nicky Henderson’s horse continued to prove unbeatable throughout the 2012/2013 campaign, storming to success in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and the Celebration Chase.

A return to Cheltenham for a third time, saw Sprinter Sacre collect the Queen Mother Champion Chase title at odds of just 1-4, the shortest a horse had ever been at the Festival since Sir Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup for England.

Cue Card must have been sick of the sight of Sprinter Sacre, having to settle for second once more when Henderson’s superstar hosed up in the John Smith’s Melling Chase at the Grand National Festival, by almost five lengths. This was hardly surprising to the bookmakers, who had sent off Henderson’s horse as the 1-3 favourite.

A Cheltenham great: Sprinter Sacre

Source: Sprinter Sacre & Simonsig by Carine06 via Flickr (CC BY SA-2.0)

 

Sprinter Sacre was seeking a hat-trick of victories when heading to his fourth visit to Cheltenham the following season but it wasn’t to be for the heavily backed favourite. He looked to protect his title in the Queen Mother Champion Chase but a back injury saw him fade away, allowing Dodging Bullets to steal his glory.

Yet in his true, aggressive, fighting spirit, Sprinter Sacre’s last visit to the Festival was to be a fairy-tale ending. Despite odds of 5-1, the then ten-year-old turned over the Irish-trained favourite in Un de Sceaux to land his second Queen Mother Champion Chase.

After the race, his trainer said: “He’s just been so feisty and aggressive all season. I’ve been looking at him every night for the last three weeks and I just knew that it was still there. It’s just talent, isn’t it?”

His last ever race was back at Sandown Park in the Celebration Chase, where he challenged Un de Sceaux once more and with Nico de Boinville on board, there was only going to be one outcome. Sprinter Sacre devoured the field, finishing fifteen lengths clear of his nearest rival, bowing out still very much at the top of his game.

On November 13th 2016, it was with regret that Nicky Henderson announced Sprinter Sacre’s retirement due to a leg tendon injury he had sustained.

“The horse of an absolute lifetime” were the famous words reiterated by Sprinter Sacre’s trainer upon the announcement. His achievements will go down in racing history for years to come.

Robert Thornton

Robert Thornton  Robert “Chocolate” Thornton was forced to call time on his career as a jockey in September, 2015, after failing to fully recover from fractured vertebrae in his neck – the latest in a series of bad injuries – suffered in a fall at Chepstow the previous April. However, in nearly 20 years, for most of which he operated as stable jockey to Wiltshire trainer Alan King, Thornton rode 1,129 winners, including 16 at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

He rode his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, King Lucifer, trained by David Nicholson, in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup as an 18-year-old amateur in 1997 and completed a notable double on Pharanear in what is now the Pertemps Network Final for the same trainer just 35 minutes later. Thornton enjoyed his most successful year at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007, when victories on My Way De Solzen in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, Voy Por Ustedes in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Katchit in the Triumph Hurdle and Andreas in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup made him leading jockey at the meeting for the one and only time.

 

He was, in fact, the last British jockey to win the leading jockey award at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

Thornton also won on his first two rides at the Cheltenham Festival in 2008, Captain Cee Bee in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Katchit in the Champion Hurdle, in what turned out to be the most successful season of his career, with 105 winners. His final Cheltenham Festival success came aboard Bensalem in what is now the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase in 1998, avenging a luckless defeat in the same race twelve months previously. All in all, Thornton won three of the four ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle, but never won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.