Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over 3 miles 2½ furlongs and 22 notoriously stiff fences on the New Course at Prestbury Park, is the most valuable conditions, or non-handicap, chase in the British National Hunt calendar, offering £625,000 in prize money. The race was created, in its current guise, by Frederick Cathcart, Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham Racecourse, in 1924. The inaugural running, which was captured by British Pathé News, was won by Red Splash, trained by Major Humphrey Wyndham and ridden by Dick Rees. Interestingly, the original Gold Cup trophy was returned to Cheltenham Racecourse in 2018 and, mounted on a plinth bearing the names of all the winners in the intervening years, is now presented to the winner as a perpetual trophy.

 

The Cheltenham Gold Cup was transferred from the Old Course to the New Course in 1959 and, in the modern era, has been won by some of the finest steeplechasers in history. Arguably the finest of them all, Arkle, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966, completing his hat-trick at prohibitive odds of 1/10, making him the shortest-priced winner ever. The only horse since to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in three consecutive years was Best Mate in 2002, 2003 and 2004, but the roll of honour includes such luminaries as Dawn Run, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star, to name but a few.

 

In 1983, Yorkshire trainer Michael Dickinson entered the Guinness Book of World Records, not for the first time, by saddling the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In order, his so-called ‘Famous Five’ were Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House. Other notable winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup include Norton’s Coin, a completely unconsidered 100/1 outsider trained by Carmarthenshire permit holder Sirrell Griffiths, in 1990, Long Run, who set the current course record of 6 minutes 29.5 seconds, in 2011 and, more recently, Al Boum Photo, who provided perennial Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins with his first winner, after six previous runner-up finishes, in 2019.

Goodwood Festival

The Goodwood Festival, traditionally known as ‘Glorious Goodwood’, is a five-day horse racing meeting that is staged annually at Goodwood Racecourse in late July and early August. Situated high on the Sussex Downs, on the southern edge of the South Downs, five miles north of Chichester, Goodwood has been described as ‘the most beautiful racecourse in the world’.

 

Horse racing was introduced to Goodwood by Charles Lennox, Third Duke of Richmond, in 1802. The initial two-day meeting, staged on a course known as ‘The Harroway’ on the Goodwood Estate, served as a replacement for the annual fixture held by officers of the Sussex Militia at nearby Petworth Park. A more ambitious, three-day fixture, held under Jockey Club Rules followed in 1803 and, in 1814, the fixture was moved to July, where it has remained ever since.

 

Notwithstanding the suspension of horse racing and the closure of Goodwood Racecourse for the duration of World War II, the Goodwood Festival continued to evolve and increase in popularity for the next two centuries or more. Nowadays, it is one of the highlights of the British racing calendar.

The modern Goodwood Festival features a total of 13 Group, or Pattern, races, of which three – the Sussex Stakes, the Goodwood Cup and the Nassau Stakes – are at the highest, Group One level and form part of the British Champions Series.

 

The Sussex Stakes, run over a mile, is the feature race on day two and, in fact, the most valuable race of the week, with £1 million in prize money. The Goodwood Cup, run over two miles, is the feature race on day three and, in 2017, was promoted to Group One status, with a corresponding increase in prize money to £500,000. The Nassau Stakes, run over a mile-and-quarter, is the feature race of the fifth, and final day, with £600,000 in prize money. The undisputed betting highlight of the final day, though, is the Stewards’ Cup, a historic handicap run over six furlongs on one of the fastest sprint courses in the country and worth £250,000 in prize money.

Michael Appleby

Barnsley-born Michael ‘Mick’ Appleby has been involved has been involved in horse racing, in various capacities, for nearly three decades. In his days as a jockey, he was attached to John Manners’ yard in Highworth, Wiltshire and, on his retirement from the saddle, joined Lambourn trainer Roger Curtis as head lad. Appleby subsequently moved to Compton Verney, Warwickshire and, in 1995, took out a public training licence for the first time.

 

However, his initial stint as a trainer was short-lived, due to financial constraints, and he subsequently became head lad to Andrew Balding at Kingsclere, Hampshire. Nevertheless, Appleby returned to training, in his own right, when appointed by breeder Colin Rogers to become his yard at Braydon Fields Farm, near Royal Wootton Bassett, in 2010. His first runner, Cotswold Village, won at 66/1 and his second, Seneschal, won at 50/1 so, although he saddled just three winners that season, he registered a level stakes profit of 106 points. Appleby improved his seasonal total to 15 winners in 2011, but a disagreement with Rogers led him to head north, to Danethorpe Stables, near Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and, more recently, to The Homestead, near Oakham, Rutland.

 

Appleby had saddled 40 winners or more every season since 2012 and, although yet to train a hundred winners in a season, had his most successful campaign ever in 2018, with 94 winners and over £930,000 in win and place prize money. Career highlights include winning the November Handicap at Doncaster in 2012, with Art Scholar, and the Scottish Sprint Cup at Musselburgh and the Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle in 2014, with Demora and Danzeno – his first Pattern race winner – respectively.

 

Perhaps understandably, in recent years, he has become a specialist at his local track, Southwell and, in 2018/19, was crowned All-Weather Champion Trainer for the third time in four years. Appleby won his first title in 2015/16, having finished second behind his namesake, Charlie Appleby, and Mark Johnson in the previous two seasons. Although only runner-up behind Johnson, again, in 2016/17, his performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he relocated his yard in early December.

York

York Racecourse occupies a lush, green 200-acre site on the southwestern outskirts of the City of York, in North Yorkshire. However, the modern racecourse complex is a far cry from the humble tract of wet, swampy ground on the Micklegate Stray – a large area of common land – known historically as ‘Knares Myre’ and, later, the ‘Knavesmire’, on which horse racing first took place in 1731.

 

The first grandstand was built in 1754 and, later, under the auspices of the York Racecourse Committee – which was formed in 1842, but still exists – further stands were erected in 1890. More recent additions, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, include the Melrose Stand, Knavesmire Stand and Ebor Stand.York Racecourse was originally a dual-purpose venue, patronised by the Yorkshire Union Hunt, but National Hunt racing ceased in 1885.

 

Originally, the track itself was horseshoe-shaped but, prior to the staging of ‘Royal Ascot at York’ in 2005, during the redevelopment of the Berkshire course, the horseshoe was completed to create a round course, two miles in circumference, and therefore suitable for the running of the Gold Cup, over two-and-a-half miles. The round course is left-handed, galloping in character and features a sweeping turn into the long home straight. Like the separate straight course, on which sprint races, over five and six furlongs, are run, the round course is very wide, with no pronounced undulations, and is considered a fair test for all types of horse.

 

Notable races run at York include three Group One races, the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks, all of which are staged during the four-day Yorkshire Ebor Festival, held annually in August. The Ebor Festival takes its name from the Ebor Handicap – the oldest and most famous race run at York, inaugurated in 1840 and, from 2019, worth £1 million in prize money – which, in turn, takes its name from ‘Eboracum’, the Roman city from which the City of York evolved following the decline of the Roman Empire.

The Oaks

The Oaks Stakes, or simply the Oaks, was founded by Edward Smith Stanley, Twelfth Earl of Derby, in 1779 and takes its name from the estate, known as Oaks or Lambert’s Oaks, in Woodmansterne, on which he had acquired the lease from his son-in-law, Sir John Burgoyne, some years earlier. The Oaks pre-dates the Derby – co-founded by, and named after, Lord Derby – by a year, making it the second oldest of the five British ‘Classics’ after the St. Leger, which was inaugurated in 1776.

 

The modern race is run over the same course and distance as the Derby – that is, 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 6 yards on the famous switchback course at Epsom Downs Racecourse – but, unlike the Derby, is restricted to thoroughbred three-year-old fillies. Indeed, along with the first fillies-only Classic of the season, the One Thousand Guineas, and the St. Leger, the Oaks forms the so-called ‘Fillies’ Triple Crown, last won by Oh So Sharp in 1985. The Oaks is currently run on the first day of the Derby Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, in late May or early June and, in 2018, offered prize money of £500,000, £283,550 of which went to the winner, Forever Together.

 

Historically, between 1915-1918 and 1940-1945, when Epsom Downs Racecourse was used for military purposes during World War I and World War II, the Oaks was run, as the ‘New Oaks Stakes’, at Newmarket. Records-wise, Robert Robson, known in his heyday as the ‘Emperor of Trainers’, is the leading trainer in the history of the Oaks, with 13 wins between 1802 and 1825, while Francis ‘Frank’ Buckle, a.k.a. ‘The Governor’, is the leading jockey, with nine wins between 1797 and 1823. More recently, the widest winning margin was recorded by Sun Princess, who won by 12 lengths in 1983 and, more recently still, the fastest winning time at Epsom, 2 minutes 34.13 seconds, was recorded by Cartier Horse of the Year, Enable, in 2017.

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