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.
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 Cheltenham 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.