|Thursday 9th December 2021|
Best Moments in Cheltenham Festival History
The Cheltenham Festival is one of the most prominent meetings in the UK horse racing calendar, with a prize money pot second only to the Grand National.
Taking place over four days every year, the festival is held at the Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire, usually in March, and often coincides with St Patrick’s Day.
Originally named the Grand National Hunt Meeting, the event was founded in 1860 and for its first 50 years was held in varying locations, though Cheltenham and Warwick were common hosts.
It wasn’t until 1911, after some significant renovations and improvements to the facilities, that Cheltenham Racecourse became the permanent home of the meeting. For much of its history, the festival was held over three days, but this was extended to four in 2005.
A look back to the memorable moments
Now, a championship race takes place on each day of the meeting, culminating in the Gold Cup on the final day. The four-day event attracts many UK punters who place bets on the Cheltenham festival and in particular the Gold Cup race. The Cheltenham Festival has produced some of the most memorable moments in horse racing history, making it a must-see for fans of the sport every year.
One such moment came in 1987 when Gee Armytage achieved two landmark victories. Riding The Ellier, Armytage won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, becoming the first woman to win a race against professionals at the festival. All at the age of just 21.
She repeated the trick the very next day by prevailing in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup, where she rode Gee-A. Armytage’s two victories broke new ground for female jockeys and finally opened the door for more to take part in the festival and other major horse racing meetings.
Four years earlier, trainer Michael Dickinson provided one of the most impressive moments in the festival’s history, and one that is yet to be topped. In the 1984 Gold Cup, the first five horses to pass the post were all trained by Dickinson.
It was a jaw-dropping feat that cemented Dickinson’s place in history as one of the finest trainers to grace the sport. It’s one thing to have several high-placing horses in one race, it’s another thing entirely to be responsible for the first five finishers in the Gold Cup.
The festival’s flagship race has been a theatre of drama on many occasions, but no single race was as surprising as the 1990 one. Norton’s Coin produced the biggest upset the Gold Cup has ever seen when it prevailed at odds of 100/1.
Trained by Sirrel Griffiths - a dairy farmer by trade - the horse was overlooked by almost all observers, who thought Norton’s Coin was only there to make up the numbers. Griffifths drive the horse to the meeting himself and needed it to place sixth or higher in order for him to cover his costs.
Ridden by Graham McCourt, Norton’s Coin executed the perfect race, placing first and even setting a record time of six minutes and 30 seconds. In doing so, it beat out Desert Orchid, who was the bookies’ hot favourite to win the race at odds of 10/11.
Sticking with the Gold Cup, the Blue Riband event saw the birth of a true star in 1964. The race was a highly anticipated one that would see the best of Great Britain and Ireland go up against each other.
Great Britain’s Mill House was looking to defend its title and had been the dominant force in the category for several years. However, Ireland’s Arkle had plenty of hype behind it, and spectators were eager to see if it could challenge Mill House.
It did that and more, winning the ‘64 Gold Cup and then going on to win that title twice more in later years, as well as a King George and an Irish Grand National.
The Champion Hurdle is one of the most difficult races not just at Cheltenham but in any major racehorse meeting, so to win it three times is an incredible achievement. By 2000, only four horses had managed that feat, however there was to be another added to that illustrious list that year; Istabraq.
Aidan O’Brien’s runner had won the race the two previous years and made it three-in-a-row at the 2000 meeting, adding its name to the history books and cementing its legacy.
In more recent years, Willie Mullins finally landing a Gold Cup winner in 2019 is one of the best feel-good stories to come out of the Festival. Al Boum Photo ended the Hall of Fame trainer’s 20-year curse and made a mockery of 16/1 odds to win the race on the final day of the meeting.
Mullins had seen his horses place second in the Gold Cup on six previous occasions prior to the 2019 race, which only made victory that much sweeter.
Another of Mullins’ horses, Ferny Hollow, has looked impressive this year and could well be one to watch at the Arkle during next year’s Festival. Blazing Khal is another horse that has come along in recent months and will surely be one of the top contenders in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle final at Cheltenham.
The festival is undoubtedly one of the most popular race meetings in the UK and, with so many memorable moments over the years, it’s not hard to see why. Each year there are upsets, dramatic turns and new stars being born, and 2022 looks set to be more of the same.