The finish line at Cheltenham Racecourse (pictured above) has been the point where racing legends have been made for centuries. Many fabled horses have stormed up that gruelling hill on the home straight, spurred on by the iconic ‘Cheltenham Roar’ from thousands of boisterous racegoers crammed into the adjacent grandstand, and past that winning post — sparking a confetti of bet slips and pints of Guinness being thrown into the crisp, spring air.
The roar will be louder than ever at Prestbury Park this year, as racegoers are going to be back in attendance at the Festival for the first time since 2020 — a week when Britain was only starting to really come to grips with the true extent of how serious the coronavirus outbreak was really going to be. 24 months later and normality is pretty much resumed, with Gold Cup Day selling out in record time as jumps fans are desperate for their fix of top-class racing.
Whether you’re lucky enough to have one of the 70-odd thousand golden tickets, or you’re planning to watch on from home, the noise of the crowd as the horses plough up the Cheltenham Hill will be loud enough to give you goosebumps — especially if you cast your mind back to the eerie silence of the venue when Jack Kennedy and Minella Indo held off A Plus Tard to win the showpiece event for Henry de Bromhead.
It promises to be another thrilling renewal of the blue riband event as well, as there is so little to separate the entries when looking at both the Cheltenham Gold Cup odds and the form card — with none of the major contenders going into the race with an unbeaten record this season. So, with anticipation building as the Festival draws ever nearer, let’s take a look at five of the most dramatic moments in Gold Cup history. Read on to find out more!
Dawn Run – 1986
The most successful mare in jumps racing history, Dawn Run completed a rare feat back in 1986 when she accomplished the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double — a record that has never been matched, nor has another mare won the showpiece race since. After winning the former in 1984, the Paddy Mullins-trained horse entered the Gold Cup in 1986, setting off as the 15/8 favourite despite being relatively inexperienced over fences.
The then eight-year-old raced as one with Wayward Lad and Forgive ‘n Forget at the last obstacle, with the former taking a length or two lead on the run-in. However, Jonjo O’Neill kicked Dawn Run into gear and the mare came through the middle of her challengers to beat Wayward Lad over the line by three quarters of a length. Spectators rampaged the winner’s enclosure, with the jockey-turned-trainer having to make his way back through a swarm of racegoers. A bronze statue of the horse now overlooks the parade ring at Prestbury Park.
Desert Orchid – 1989
Just three years later and there was another hugely dramatic renewal of the Gold Cup, with Desert Orchid beating 25/1 shot Yahoo over the line by a length and a half. Voted the best race ever by Racing Post readers, ‘Dessie’, as he was known by his adoring fans, lagged behind Yahoo over the last fence on a wet, muddy afternoon at Prestbury Park, but the four-time King George VI champion railed up the hill as a tremendous cheer from the crowd spurred them home and the David Elsworth-trained horse prevailed.
Three cheers went up from the crowd as jockey Simon Sherwood unsaddled the horse, with the rider saying: “I’ve never known a horse so brave. He hated every step of the way in the ground and dug as deep as he could possibly go”. Timeform ranks the grey as the fifth-best rated National Hunt horse of all time!
Lord Windermere – 2014
As if the Gold Cup doesn’t get your heart racing enough as it is, you could have cut the tension with a knife inside Prestbury Park in 2014 when it took a 10-minute stewards’ enquiry to decide the winner of the showpiece race — with Lord Windermere eventually crowned the champion after what must have felt like a lifetime for his connections.
Trained by Jim Culloty, who rode Best Mate to Gold Cup glory three times, the 20/1 shot never looked in contention as he chased the leaders at the last of the 22 fences. However, despite drifting right on the run-in, Lord Windermere passed Silviniaco Conte and Bob and Co. as they had nothing left to give in the final 110 yards and he held off the challenge of On His Own by a short-head to win a first Gold Cup for jockey Davy Russell.
Minella Indo – 2021
Not often does a trainer get to watch the business end of Gold Cup pan out knowing that one of his horses is going to win the prestigious award, but that is exactly the scenario Henry de Bromhead found himself in last year — with two fences left to go, the only question was which horse was it going to be?
Minella Indo, Frodon, Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard were the only ones in contention at the final bend, but with Paul Nicholls’ runner dropping off and the defending champion held in, it was out-and-out contest between De Bromhead’s stars. Two lengths ahead at the last, Minella Indo and Kennedy stayed on well to hold off A Plus Tard by a length and a quarter.
Al Boum Photo – 2019
Given all Willie Mullins’ success at the Cheltenham Festival over the last decade or so, including being named Leading Trainer five times up to this point, it’s hard to believe that it took him until 2019 to finally to get his hands on the Gold Cup — in fact, he had already surpassed the 60-winners mark at the prestigious meeting by Al Boum Photo’s victory three years ago.
Bellshill and Kemboy were actually the Closutton handler’s best options at 8/1 and 9/1, but the former was pulled up by Ruby Walsh after mistakes at the seventh and eighth fences while Kemboy unseated David Mullins at the first. Paul Townend took matters into his own hands though, guiding Al Boum Photo (12/1) into the lead at the turn for home and staying on well to win by over two lengths clear of Anibale Fly. With Walsh retiring at the end of the season, Townend was crowned Mullins’ new number one rider.