Cheltenham Winners and the History of The Cheltenham Festival
Cheltenham is the apogee of Jumps racing and one of the most celebrated racecourses in the world, attracting audiences of up to 71,000 each year! The 350-acre racecourse is rightly known as the Home of Jump Racing and has hosted some of the finest National Hunt racing over the last two centuries.
Ever wondered when Cheltenham established itself and became the grand racecourse that it is today?
Well, read on and let us take you on a trip back in time where you can discover Cheltenham’s first races, winners and how the Ireland v England Cheltenham rivalry began.
The Origins of the Cheltenham Festival
Before steeplechasing became the customary at Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham hosted flat racing meetings on Nottingham Hill. These races – which tested horses from the local area – were one-day affairs but growing crowds spurred the races to be relocated to Cleeve Hill in 1818. Before then, Cheltenham kept no records of their race days and so the first officially recorded race winner was a horse named Miss. Tidmarsh, a five-year old mare owned by a Mr E. Jones.
For the next decade horse racing soared in popularity and thousands would descend upon Cleeve Hill to watch its annual two-day meeting, which included a 3-mile Gold Cup flat race. Before long the races formed a central part of a larger town carnival at Cheltenham. In the evening the town centre would host extravagant parties for the “who’s who” of the day, and during daylight hours, racing was the main focus of festivities with crowds attending to eat, drink, gamble and see sideshows at the course. Yet, despite the meetings growing popularity, there were a few who despised the sport.
Reverend Francis Close, Cheltenham’s Parish Priest, had been preaching the evils of horse racing, making hard references to gambling and drinking to his congregation. In 1829 the Cleeve Hill grandstand was burnt to the ground and the 1830 race meeting was violently disrupted.
As a result of the outrage, the racecourse moved to Prestbury Park but attendance numbers dwindled as the racing grounds were not as good as Cleeve Hill. Luckily, Cheltenham was saved of a tragic death in 1881 when a Mr. W.A Baring Bingham bought Prestbury Park and restored Cheltenham of its reputable name.
The first National Hunt Festival was held 11-years later, though Cheltenham didn’t become the established venue for the National Hunt until 1911, where it has been hosted ever since. In 1924, the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup was introduced, a Grade 1 National Hunt chase ran over 3 miles and 2 ½ furlongs which fast became the highlight of The Festival.
The Gold Cup has produced a fair share of memorable and exhilarating moments at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham’s Gold Cup Winners
Before the Gold Cup became the chase that we know it to be now, it was a 3-mile flat race first won by a horse named Spectre.
But in 1924, The Cheltenham Gold Cup was implemented into the steepleracing schedule by “Fog” Rowlands and a few others. This was introduced as a way of encouraging farmers to breed high-class horses to compete in a tough race, as it now required horses to jump over obstacles whilst maintaining a fast pace and what a terrific idea it was!
Cheltenham’s First Gold Cup Winner
The first Gold Cup champions were a horse named Red Splash and his jockey, Dick Rees. Red Splash had come in at 5/1 and raced to win around £700, which is equivalent to £28,741 today – still a whopping £595,000 less than what it is ran for now!
Rees was of Welsh origin and is regarded as one of the greatest inter-war jockeys in British history as he also became the first rider to win 100 races in the 1924 National Hunt Season. Red Splash is also a noteworthy icon as he remains one of only three five-year old horses to have won the Gold Cup race.
The original Gold Cup trophy which Dick Rees would have received weighs 644 grams of nine carat gold and is also plated in 18 carat gold. Cheltenham Racecourse only recently acquired the original from a private owner who had kept it in a bank vault since the early 1970s. It is now mounted on a plinth at Cheltenham and modern-day Gold Cup winners take a replica of the original home.
Cheltenham’s Most Recent Gold Cup Winners
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most-anticipated race of the Festival’s finale and an abundance of world-class racers have written themselves into its history.
Iconic Gold Cup Winners at Cheltenham
The Gold Cup, the toughest of chases, being a gruelling 3 miles, 2½ furlongs with an uphill finish is one of the most exciting races of the Cheltenham Festival schedule. No horse can rest until they’ve crossed the winning post and so those who do, and more than once at that, really are some of the greatest in the equestrian world.
Golden Miller (1927-1957)
The most successful horse to have competed in the Gold Cup is Golden Miller, and like his name he really is a National Hunt treasure. Between 1932 and 1936, the gelding won the race five times! To this day, he is the only horse to have completed such a feat and it’s quite right that his owner Dorothy Paget, is also known as one of the greatest racehorse owners in history.
Ireland v England Rivalry at Cheltenham
The Cheltenham Festival has long played host to some great sporting rivalries, with one of the most major being the Anglo-British rivalry. This has added an edge to racing at Cheltenham, so much so that The Festival celebrates the Ireland v England clash with a trophy – the 888sport Prestbury Cup!
It is presented to the jockeys and trainers of the country that is first to have 14, or more winning runners amongst their ranks. In 2019, the British and the Irish drew with 11 runners a piece, resulting in neither party taking home the Cup.
Cheltenham’s Big Brits
The UK have also had their fare share of victories. Richard Johnson is one of the greatest National Hunt jockeys of all time, having won all four Championship races at Cheltenham Racecourse. Also, widely celebrated is British horse trainer, Paul Nicholls who has handled Cheltenham talents – Kauto Star and Denman. He has won several titles at Cheltenham, including four Gold Cup races.
Other notable British-trained horses include Best Mate, who won three Cheltenham Gold Cup titles, Desert Orchid and Native River who won the Gold Cup in 2018.
Cheltenham Festival Top Ten Facts
- Cheltenham attracts a big crowd…
Over 260,000 racegoers flock to Prestbury Park for The Cheltenham Festival each year!
- An Irish love affair.
An Irish-trained horse has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup race 25 times since its inauguration.
- Cheltenham does it BIG!
Cheltenham hosts four days of horse racing action and is the second largest horse racing Festival in the UK, beaten only by Royal Ascot which lasts a day longer.
- Drinks and food galore…
It is believed that at least 8,000 gallons of tea and coffee are served, 220,000 pints of Irish Guinness is guzzled down, 9 tons of potatoes are consumed and 5 tons of salmon is devoured at the Festival each year!
- Luck of the Irish?
According to academics, it is estimated that The Cheltenham Festival brings in approximately £100m into the Gloucestershire economy.
- Hospitality continues to support Cheltenham!
Hospitality is one of the biggest income strands for the Cheltenham Festival and has enabled its organisers to invest more into maintaining and revamping the Racecourse to make sure you get great value for money.
- Feeling 22?
A total of 22 fences are jumped during the Cheltenham Gold Cup Race.
- Part of the woodwork.
The oldest race in the Cheltenham Festival is the Stayers’ Hurdle which was first introduced in 1912.
- Has Cheltenham ever been cancelled?
Yes, it has! Aside from the periods during the World Wars, the Festival didn’t run in 2001 due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease across the UK.
- Cheltenham Royalty
Ruby Walsh remains Cheltenham’s Champion Jockey, winning most wins by a jockey 7 times in one year at Cheltenham Racecourse!
Cheltenham has a rich and untold history, which only makes it all the more special to the UK. It boasts an annual attendance of around 700,000 racegoers and unlike Royal Ascot, has a much more laid back dress code, which often makes it one of the more favoured horse racing meetings.
It continues to grow in status and popularity, yet despite the helicopters, the heavy media coverage and the estimated £2.3m taken by cash machines — the organisers want nothing more than to put on some of the world’s finest races for you racegoers and for Cheltenham to maintain its original charm.