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.

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.

St Leger

The St. Leger Stakes was established in 1776, at the suggestion of Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony St. Leger – erstwhile Member of Parliament for Greater Grimsby and later promoted to Major-General – as a sweepstakes for three-year-olds, run over two miles on Cantley Common, Doncaster. The inaugural running featured just five horses, the owners of whom contributed 25 guineas each to the prize money. Three years later, the St. Leger was transferred to Town Moor and, in 1813 – the year before the race was officially designated a ‘Classic’ by the Jockey Club – the distance was shortened to 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 193 yards.

 

Despite diminishing status in recent years, the St. Leger remains a Group One contest, run over the slightly shorter distance of 1 mile 6 furlongs and 115 yards, at Doncaster in September. The race is open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies – but not geldings, which have been excluded since 1906 – and, in 2018, the total prize fund was £700,000.

 

Originally a local event, the St. Leger soon gained nationwide recognition and, in the early twentieth century, royal patronage from King Edward VII, who attended the St. Leger Meeting between 1903 and 1909. Indeed, in 1909, the King owned a contender for the so-called ‘Triple Crown’ – the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger – but his colt, Minoru, could only finish fourth of seven, beaten six lengths, behind Bayardo in the final Classic of the season.

 

The St. Leger has been cancelled just once, in 1939, due to the outbreak of World War II, although it has been staged in a number of different guises at various racecourses, including Ayr, Newmarket, Thirsk and York, over the years. The leading trainer in the history of the race is John Scott, a.k.a. ‘Wizard of the North, who saddled an astonishing 16 winners between 1827 and 1862. The widest-margin winner ever was Never Say Die, ridden by Charlie Smirke – deputising for the suspended Lester Piggott – who sauntered home by twelve lengths in 1954.

2000 Guineas

Established by the Jockey Club, under the patronage of Sir Charles Bunbury, in 1809, the Two Thousand Guineas took its name from the original prize fund; at the time the guinea, worth 21/– in pre-decimal currency, was still the largest denomination in British currency. However, in two hundred-odd years since the race was first run on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket, the Two Thousand Guineas has become one of the races that defines a generation of thoroughbred racehorses and, today, has a prize fund of over £500,000.

 

Designated a ‘Classic’ – along with the One Thousand Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St. Leger – by the Jockey Club in 1814, the Two Thousand Guineas is run over a straight mile, in late April or early May, and open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies. Fillies receive a 3lb weight allowance from their male counterparts but, even so, tend to contest the ‘fillies-only’ One Thousand Guineas which, despite its title, is worth £500,000 in prize money. In fact, the last filly to win the One Thousand Guineas was Garden Path in 1944.

 

Along with the Derby and St. Leger, the Two Thousand Guineas traditionally forms the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, last won by Nijinsky, trained by the late Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Lester Piggott, in 1970. Nowadays, the Triple Crown is rarely, if ever, attempted, although in 2012, Camelot, trained by Aidan O’Brien, won the Two Thousand Guineas and the Derby before finishing second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the St. Leger. Speaking of Aidan O’Brien, the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has a phenomenal record in the Two Thousand Guineas, with the 2019 winner, Grecia Magna, taking his total to ten winners since 1998.

 

Indeed, Grecia Magna joins a roll of honour that includes some of the highest-rated horses since Timeform published ‘Racehorses of 1948’ in 1949. In 2011, the highest-rated horse of the Timeform era, Frankel, made all the running to win by six lengths, but even he could not match the performance of the 1947 winner, Tudor Minstrel – joint-third on the all-time list, according to Timeform – who won by eight lengths and, according to some observers, could have won by twenty lengths. Other luminaries to have won the first Classic of the season include Brigadier Gerard, Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars.

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