Fierce rivalry between British and Irish trainers has been a feature of the Cheltenham Festival since the days of Cottage Rake who, in 1948, became the first Irish-trained horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and defended his title in 1949 and 1950. The duel between Arkle, trained in Ireland, and Mill House, trained in England, in the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup fuelled further Irish interest in the Cheltenham Festival. Notwithstanding Covid-19 restrictions, the Irish ‘invasion’ of Prestbury Park in March each year has been a fact of life ever since.
In any event, the battle for supremacy at the Cheltenham Festival was made ‘official’ in 2014, with the creation of the Prestbury Cup, which is presented to whichever country saddles most winners over the four days. In 2014 and 2015, the Cheltenham Festival consisted of 27 races, rather than the current 28, and British trainers won the Prestbury Cup on both occasions, by scores of 15-12 and 14-13, respectively. However, since 2016, the boot has been firmly on the other foot, with Irish trainers winning, or retaining, the Prestbury Cup on every occasion. Indeed, in 2021, Irish dominance was exemplified by a record 23-5 scoreline, with all four ‘championship’ races and twelve of the fourteen Grade 1 races going the way of Irish trainers.
The Cheltenham Festival was extended from three days to four in 2005 and, at that stage, several races – including the Ryanair Chase and the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – were added to the programme to facilitate the extra day. Further races have since been added, increasing the total number to 28, four of which are named after horses.
Inaugurated in 1969, the Arkle Challenge Trophy is named after Arkle, a three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 and the highest-rated steeplechaser in the history of Timeform. Inaugurated in 2011, the Golden Miller Novices’ Chase, a.k.a. the Marsh Novices’ Chase, commemorates another Cheltenham Festival legend, Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup five years running between 1932 and 1936. Similarly, the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, a.k.a. the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, which was inaugurated in 2016, celebrates Dawn Run, the first and, so far, only horse to win the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The most recent addition to the Cheltenham Festival programme, the Liberthine Mares’ Chase – known, for sponsorship purposes, as the Mrs. Paddy Power Mares’ Chase – was inaugurated in 2021. The eponymous Liberthine was a mare owned by former Chairman of the Cheltenham Racecourse Committee Robert Waley-Cohen, best known for winning the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase at the 2005 Cheltenham Festival.
The simple answer is yes, it is. The original Cheltenham Gold Cup, created by Blanckensee & Sons of Birmingham for the inaugural running of the race in 1924, was returned to Cheltenham Racecourse in 2018. Originally presented to Major Humphrey Wyndham, owner of the first winner, Red Splash, the trophy dropped out of sight for decades, but had reportedly been in private ownership, in a bank vault, since the Seventies.
Ian Renton, Regional Director of the Jockey Club, which owns Cheltenham Racecourse, welcomed the return of the trophy, saying, ‘To bring the first ever Cheltenham Gold Cup trophy back to its rightful home and to use as the perpetual trophy really demonstrates the rich history and heritage of the race.’
The original Cheltenham Gold Cup was mounted on a plinth bearing the names of all the previous winners of the race and has been presented, as a perennial trophy, to the winning owner since 2019. Indeed, that was the first time the Cheltenham Gold Cup had changed since 1972. The Cheltenham Gold Cup, itself, consists of 23 ounces, or 644 grams, of nine carat gold – worth nearly £30,000 at current prices – and is coated with 18 carat gold to create a rich, lustrous sheen.
In the history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which was established, as the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, in 1959, several horses have two victories to their names. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Moscow Flyer, Sprinter Sacre and, most recently, Altior, have won the race twice.
However, for the most successful horse in the history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase we need to look a little further back when, for a bright, but brief, period, National Hunt racing was dominated by Michael ‘The Mad Genius’ Dickinson. Dickinson is best remembered for saddling the first five finishers in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup, but also saddled Badsworth Boy to the first two of his three wins in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in 1983 and 1984.
Dickinson, who described Badsworth Boy as ‘the best I trained over jumps’, said, ‘I would urge anyone to watch his first Champion Chase [which he won by a distance] on YouTube because it was the most devastating performance you’re ever likely to see.
In the summer of 1984, Dickinson was recruited by Robert Sangster to train his Flat horses The family licence passed to his mother, Monica, who saddled Badsworth Boy to a record third win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1985.