The Grand National versus the Cheltenham Gold Cup – Where Do You Stand?

Over March and April each year the two most significant races in the National Hunt calendar take place, namely the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.

The Grand National alone takes around £300m in bets each year and it is estimated that the Cheltenham festival (which includes the Gold Cup as it’s feature race) hits the £500m. The prize money alone for the two races is over £1.6 million. Take a look at the best betting offers for the Aintree Grand National so you can have a punt yourself.

There is one sure-fire way to tell the difference between a horse racing aficionado and someone who is not (without possessing some kind of Derren Brown style extrasensory perception) – ask them which of these two races they like the most.

A purist of the Sport of Kings is far more likely to opt for the Gold Cup, the person on the street will just as likely gravitate towards the National.

Why is this though?

As somebody who has been passionately following horse racing for almost half a century, I will try to explain the psychology!

The Grand National – A Quick Synopsis

There is no doubt that the Grand National is a grand spectacle. When I watch the 40 horses start the gallop towards that first fence each year at Aintree, I must admit that it never once fails to give me goosebumps.

It’s a steeplechase marathon, which is always full of stories behind the contenders that are waiting to be etched into history forever.  Additionally, the actual race itself is very rarely uneventful.

It’s a national institution, a long running staple of not only the sporting calendar, (it attracts a sizable worldwide audience) but it is a quintessential part of British life itself. So much so, that if Dame Judy Dench or Sir Trevor McDonald embodied a horse race, it would probably be this one.

However, it is also a handicap. So, what, you say? Well, it means it has a mixed bunch of entrants with varying ability and that the best horse probably doesn’t come out on top that often (there are notable exceptions) as they all carry different weights around on their back. The perceived poorer horses are required to carry less of a burden around the track to even out this inferiority (some in fact carry nearly 2 stone less than others).

No other horse has become as synonymous with this race as Red Rum.  Between 1973 – 1977, the slightly framed gelding won it no less than 3 times and was runner-up twice. Over the years his name and achievements have deservedly transcended the sport of horse racing.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup – A Quick Synopsis

The Cheltenham Gold Cup meanwhile, is a race which usually attracts around 15 entrants and each and every horse is treated equally.

It’s a championship Grade 1 race, so there is no hiding place – these are the big boys (and girls).

It’s simply the cream of long-distance chasers competing against each other over a thoroughly relentless and unforgiving 3 miles and 2 furlongs. The Cheltenham course is the ultimate challenge, a supreme test of jumping skill, speed and stamina.

Furthermore, some of the greatest names in horse racing history have competed and won (think about Arkle, Golden Miller and more recently the Denman and Kauto Star rivalry making the front pages of the newspapers.)  They may not be as widespread household names as ‘Rummy’, but they have each made their own indelible marks.

It is often cited as the ‘blue riband’ event of National Hunt racing. So, the human equivalent of the Gold Cup would be Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson or maybe Novak Djokovic.

It also benefits from being part of the Cheltenham festival, where, over the course of 4 days many of the Championship races are run. It is what all of the trainers in the business gear up for during the course of the entire season (all roads lead to Cheltenham).

The Grand National does have an undercard featuring some top-quality racing, but it is not at the same level or prestige as its Cheltenham counterpart.

Concluding thoughts…

Those who follow horse racing and appreciate the very best competing against each other would naturally gravitate to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Grand National being an entertaining distraction for them from the endless ups and downs of the jumps season.

On the other hand, the casuals who are more inclined to bet once a year are drawn into the theatre and occasion of a one-off long-distance race featuring a cast of many. They are not too concerned with the fact that some of the competitors are given more favourable conditions than others or that they are not observing a group entirely made of the finest equine specimens that racing has to offer.

The truth is that each showpiece has its place in our hearts and minds, and long may this continue.