For fans of the National Hunt game, nothing quite compares to the magical four days in March of the Cheltenham Festival. Twenty-eight events are crammed into the Tuesday-to-Friday running time of the greatest show in racing and no fewer than 14 of them are top-class Grade 1 affairs.
Even amongst the Grade 1s, a pecking order exists, with each day lit up by a headline-grabbing Championship level event. The Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Stayers’ Hurdle all represent the pinnacle of their respective divisions but, for many, the best is saved until last, as the historic Cheltenham Gold Cup takes pride of place on the closing Friday card.
In the jumps racing game, nothing captures the imagination quite like the sight of the most talented staying chasers locking horns, putting their stamina, jumping ability, toughness, and class on the line in pursuit of glory. And in the staying chase realm, this is the ultimate prize.
The Grand National may be more famous and financially rewarding, but, for sheer quality, the Gold Cup has no equal. Invariably attracting the best British and Irish contenders, the race boasts a formidable roll of honour, including Golden Miller, Arkle, Desert Orchid, Best Mate, Kauto Star, and many more all-time greats.
Offering a not inconsiderable £625,000 (2023) in total prize money and a rubberstamped place in the annals of racing history, this is a race not to be missed and a wonderful final-day showstopper for the finest National Hunt meeting on the planet. But what type of horse is required to claim gold?
Here, we pour over the results from the 23 editions to be held between 2000 and 2023 (the 2001 edition bit the dust due to foot and mouth) and highlight a selection of stats and trends which may assist in identifying the most likely challengers.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Age Trends
The headline act at the Cheltenham Festival is open to all runners aged five and older. However, only three so young have ever won the race and none since 1932. At the other end of the scale, Siver Frame (1951) and What A Myth (1969) both won as a 12-year-old, but, as we can see in the chart above, all winners in the current century have been nine or younger. When attempting to narrow down the list of runners, the 2000-23 stats suggest we should focus on the 7-9 bracket, with 22 of 23 winners (95.65%) falling into that category.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Trainer Stats
No surprises at the top of the list, with British and Irish powerhouses Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins tied on three wins apiece. Having also won the race with See More Business in 1999, Nicholls sits just one behind Arkle trainer Pat Taaffe in the all-time list. Despite his dominant record at the Festival overall, Mullins didn’t break his duck in this race until 2019 with the success of Al Boum Photo. Ominously for the rest, Mullins now seems to have found his Gold Cup groove, with his second and third wins following in 2020 and 2023.
There’s not much in it in the Britain vs Ireland battle in the current century. The hosts hold a narrow advantage with 12 wins to 11 for the raiders. However, the Irish are firmly in the ascendancy right now, with seven wins in the eight editions between 2016 and 2023.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Rating of Winner
There has been very little change in the average rating of the winner in the current century, which sits at 169.35 over the 23 editions examined. There have, of course, been significant fluctuations around that average, headed by Long Run, who conquered Kauto Star and Denman in a thrilling 2011 edition. At the bottom end, we have Lord Windermere, who caused a shock in 2014.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Finishing Position Last Time Out
In common with many of the Grade 1s at the meeting, a win in their previous outing is a definite positive when assessing the chances of Gold Cup contenders. 17 winners arrived on the back of a win, whilst 20 of 23 (87%) had finished in the first two on their most recent run. All 23 had at least finished in the first six.
Route to the Race
Between 2000 and 2023, two races share top billing as the most frequented route to the race – one on each side of the Irish Sea. On home soil, the festive highlight of the King George VI Chase at Kempton has proven the most informative contest. Of the six who headed here from Kempton, four had also entered the winner’s enclosure on Boxing Day. Next best amongst the British races is the Denman Chase, which takes place at Newbury in February.
Over in Ireland, the festive season has also been the best time to catch a potential Gold Cup winner in action, with the December event of the Savills Chase providing six winners, including four who had also won that Leopardstown race.
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Fate of the Favourite
The Gold Cup proved an excellent race for the market leader between 2000 and 2023. Of the 23 editions, 11 (47.82%) were won by the favourite. Of those 11 winning favourites, only 2004 champ Best Mate returned an odds-on SP. A £1 level stakes bet on the jolly over this period would have resulted in a profit of £13.59.
Overall, 21 of 23 winners returned a single-figure SP – the two exceptions being 2019 champ Al Boum Photo (12/1) and 2014 hero Lord Windermere (20/1).
Cheltenham Gold Cup: Other Stats
- Jim Culloty, Paul Townend, Barry Geraghty, Richard Johnson, and Ruby Walsh are the only jockeys to ride the winner on more than one occasion. Of that quintet, all bar Paul Townend are now retired.
- The strongest trend in evidence relates to previous success at the top level. Between 2000 and 2023, all 23 winners already had at least one Grade 1 win to their name.
- 20 of 23 winners had already won over 3m or further.
- 14 of 23 winners had previously won at the track.
- 12 of 23 Gold Cup champs had won at the Cheltenham Festival in a previous year.
- 22 of 23 Gold Cup winners arrived following a break of 83 days or less.