You can barely move for a Gold Cup of some description throughout the National Hunt season. Hot on the heels of the Paddy Power Gold Cup of November, the action returns to Cheltenham once more for the December Gold Cup.
Held over a trip of 2m4½f around the New Course at the Prestbury Park venue, there are a total of 17 fences standing between the runners and glory. Taking place over the same distance as the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the race tends to attract many of the same runners from the November highlight, with Pegwell Bay, Senor El Betrutti, and Exotic Dancer all having won both races in the same season.
Making its debut in 1963, early editions saw a couple of all-time greats etching their names onto the roll of honour, with Flyingbolt claiming the prize in 1965 and Pendil winning under a welter burden of 12st7lb in 1973. The lovable Frodon has been one of the classiest winners of the modern era, having come home in front for Paul Nicholls in both 2016 and 2018.
Invariably attracting a hugely competitive field – all searching for a share of the £130,000 in total prize money – the race is amongst the biggest betting heats in the run-up to Christmas. Here, we look back at the 20 editions held between 2000 and 2022 – with no races in 2001, 2008, or 2022 due to the wonderful British weather – and highlight any trends which may assist in zeroing in on the winner.
December Gold Cup: Age Trends
Runners aged four and older are eligible for this race, and the youngsters occasionally taste success, as evidenced by Unioniste (2012) and Frodon (2016), both of whom hailed from the yard of Paul Nicholls. Course specialist Coole Cody (2021) showed that the older legs shouldn’t be discounted entirely, but overall, the six to eight-year-olds have held the edge, with 17 of 20 (85%) of winners falling into that bracket.
December Gold Cup: Weight Trends
Ahead of the 2023 edition, the minimum weight is 10st2lb, with 12st the maximum burden. As such, the bottom three entries on the above chart would carry a couple of pounds more if lining up for the 2023 edition. Nevertheless, the more lightly weighted runners appear to hold the advantage, with 14 of 20 winners (70%) having carried 11st or under.
Frodon may be small compared to many rivals, but that didn’t prevent the tenacious sort from posting the most impressive weight-carrying display of the 21st century when coming home in front under 11st12lb in 2018.
December Gold Cup: Rating of Winner
Greatly aided by the standout wins of the 163-rated Poquelin (2010) and 164-rated Frodon (2018), the rating of the winner has shown an upward trend in the current century. The average over the 2000 to 2022 period sits at 142.4.
December Gold Cup: Finishing Position Last Time Out
The results over the 2000 to 2022 period suggest the race is most likely to fall to a runner who arrives on the back of a solid performance. Only five winners were following up a win on their previous start, but a solid 15 of 20 (75%) had at least finished in the first three when last seen at the track. Overall, only three winners finished outside the first five on their latest run, with one of those being a faller.
Race Fitness an Advantage
Results suggest that at least one previous outing in the current campaign is an advantage, with Tamarinbleu (2007) the only runner to have won on their seasonal reappearance. Overall either one or two previous runs appear the most productive route into the race, with 14 of 20 (70%) winners falling into this category.
December Gold Cup: Fate of the Favourite
There are several big field handicap chases which have been relatively kind to favourite backers in recent times, but this isn’t one of them. Over the 20 editions between 2000 and 2022, 2009 champ Poquelin was the only market leader to deliver. Supporting the favourite over this period would have resulted in a £15.50 loss to £1 level stakes. Overall, 12 of the 20 winners returned a single-figure SP, and 7 were priced between 12/1 and 16/1. The biggest shock came in 2007 with the 22/1 success of Tamarinbleu.
December Gold Cup: Other Stats
- Proven stamina at the trip has not been essential for success here, with nine of 20 winners scoring over this distance for the first time. The other 11 had all previously won over this trip or further.
- Multiple Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls leads the way in the current century with an impressive five wins in 20 editions. Big rival Nicky Henderson is next best with three wins, followed by David Pipe and Phillip Hobbs, who have two apiece.
- Only three jockeys have claimed top sport on more than one occasion: the now-retired duo of Mick Fitzgerald and Richard Johnson and Sam Twiston-Davies, who may add to his tally.
- A proven ability to handle the track isn’t a must but can be taken as a positive, with seven of the 20 winners having previously won at Cheltenham.