By Andy Stephens and Harry Allwood
All you need to know about the 2021 WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup at Cheltenham Racecourse on Friday March 19.
When and where will it be staged? 3.05 Cheltenham, Friday, March 19. Live on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade One. On what course is it run? New Course
What Distance? 3m 2½f (22 fences). What Prize-money? TBC
What Ages? For 5yo+ which are allotted a BHA rating of 130 or more
Any Weights & Allowances? 5yo 11st 9lb; 6yo+ 11st 10lb. Allowances, mares 7lb
Sponsor: WellChild - find out more about the partnership here
Paul Townend tells Lydia Hislop about winnng the Gold Cup for the second year running on Al Boum Photo in 2020
Be wary of the older contenders:
The past 21 winners have been aged nine or under. The last ten-year-old winner was Cool Dawn in 1998 (no race in 2001). Native River, Monalee, Bristol De mai and Presenting Percy could be among those who bid to buck the trend this year.
And the younger ones!
Long Run is the only six-year-old winner in more than 50 years. Mill House won before him in 1963.
Fifteen of the past 18 winners were in the top three in the betting. Sizing John was (7-1) in 2017, Lord Windermere (20-1) in 2014 and Al Boum Photo (12-1) in 2019 are the three non-qualifiers. Last year, Al Boum Photo, the favourite, beat Santini, the joint second-favourite.
The past 19 victors were all Grade One winners going into the race.
Eleven of the past 17 winners had not run after January 1 of that season. The past three winners (Al Boum Photo, twice, and Native River) lined up having had only one race that campaign. So did Bobs Worth, in 2013, and Long Run in 2011. Conversely, horses who have busy campaigns have rarely obliged in recent times.
Al Boum Photo has been only the fifth Gold Cup winner in the past 21 years that did not run in either the King George VI Chase or the Savills Chase (the Leopardstown version) that season. The RSA from the previous year is always worth a second look with Bobs Worth and Lord Winderemere doing the double in recent years, and Long Run and Al Boum Photo running in it, too. Champ, Minella Indo and Allaho filled the first three places last year. In addition, 16 of the past 21 victors had won last time out.
Don't hang about over hurdles
This century, all the winners have been unleashed over fences straight after their novice hurdle campaigns. And horses who have not had many starts over the bigger obstacles should also be noted with ten winners in the past 15 years having had nine or less chase starts before hitting the jackpot. And Al Boum Photo was still having only his eleventh chade starts when retaining his crown last year.
Thirteen of the past 20 winners had previously finished first or second at least once at the Festival.
Speed and stamina:
Eight Gold Cup winners in the past two decades were unproven over the Gold Cup trip and horses with top-class form over shorter distances, especially over hurdles, deserve a second look. For instance, Best Mate, Kicking King, War Of Attrition and Sizing John all made the frame in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle before going on to win jump racing's bggest prize. Also, do not discount horses who ran in the Ryanair Chase 12 months earlier. Imperial Commander (first) and Don Cossack (third) ran in it before scooping Gold over more than five furlongs further.
In the Cheltenham Gold Cup’s history, only eight horses have won it more than once, with Al Bouk Photo (2019 and 2020) becoming the latest.
Before him, Kauto Star had been the last dual winner (2007 & 2009) and he is the only horse to ever regain the race. Al Boum Photo will bid to become only the second horse after Best Mate (2002-04) and Arkle (1964/65/66) to secure a Gold Cup hat-trick, although Golden Miller won it five times (1932/33/34/35/36) when it was formerly a trial for the Grand National.
The other horses to have won the race more than once are: L’Escargot (1970/71), Cottage Rake (1948/49/50), and Easter Hero (1929/30).
Al Boum Photo provided Willie Mullins with his first Cheltenham Gold Cup victory in 2019. Watch what the serial Irish Champion trainer had to say immediately afterwards
Willie Mullins finally trained his first Gold Cup winner via Al Boum Photo in 2019 and promptly won it again last year, having previously saddled the runner-up six times. Irish-trained horses have won seven of the 16 Gold Cups since Best Mate’s dominant spell and five of last seven.
The WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup is the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival and attracts the sport's finest staying steeplechasers.
With a prize fund of £625,000 in 2020, the Gold Cup is by far the richest non-handicap chase run in Britain, with only the £1m (in 2019) Randox Health Grand National worth more.
The two outstanding horses of the early Gold Cup era were dual winner Easter Hero (1929-30) and Golden Miller, who secured an unprecedented five victories from 1932. In those days, though, the race was something of a trial for the Grand National.
Since Golden Miller, only the great Arkle (1964-66) and Best Mate (2002-04) have won more than two Gold Cups, a feat even the great Kauto Star could not match.
Jim Culloty, the jockey of Best Mate, became just the fifth person to ride the winner and then go on to train a winner of the race when Lord Windermere caused a 20-1 shock in 2014. Lord Windermere was the longest-priced winner since 25-1 Cool Dawn in 1998.
2020 - Al Boum Photo
Al Boum Photo galloped into National Hunt folklore as he joined the elite band of horses to record back-to-back victories.
Giving Willie Mullins a fantastic four-timer on the day, Al Boum Photo (100-30 favourite) had to dig deep to see off the opposition in a gripping finish.
Al Boum Photo, Santini, Lostintranslation and Real Steel had led the pack heading to two out, where Presenting Percy fell. Paul Townend set sail after the last and the winning post came just in time as Santini closed the gap to a neck at the line.
Lostintranslation was a length and a quarter away in third place, with the always-prominent Monalee fourth and Delta Work fifth, having struggled to get into contention following a mistake at the second fence.
"I went out with a plan to get in a rhythm, but he missed a few fences, luckily he always found his feet," a jubilant Townend said. "It was completely different to last year, but most importantly it was the same result."
2019 - Al Boum Photo
Al Boum Photo provided Willie Mullins with a long-awaited first Cheltenham Gold Cup success when storming to victory at 12-1 to defeat Anibale Fly who finished placed for the second year running.
Mullins had trained the runner-up no less than six times in the Gold Cup and the champion trainer admitted afterwards he thought he was never going to win it.
He said: "I sort of resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup. Certain jockeys may never win the feature race of their lives, like the Grand National or the Champion Hurdle. I thought maybe I'm not going to be lucky."
Kemboy unseated his rider at the first fence, but got his revenge on Al Boum Photo when winning the Punchestown Gold Cup two months later.
2018 - Native River
An "I was there" Gold Cup, with Native River and Might Bite serving up a titanic tussle on testing ground.
The pair dominated from the start, jumping superbly and setting a gallop that slowly sucked the other 13 in the race out of their comfort zones.
It looked like Might Bite, the 4-1 favourite, would pick off front-running Native River, but the latter, sent off at 5-1, stretched every sinew under Richard Johnson and kept him at bay.
By the finish, Native River had stretched four and a half lengths clear. Anibale Fly kept on for third, with Total Recall a notable faller four out.
2017 - Sizing John:
Stepped out of Douvan’s shadow when going up in trip and, having won the Irish Gold Cup on his first attempt at 3m the previous month, the Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old shot to the top of the chasing ranks by leading home an Irish 1-2-3-4-5.
Always travelling best under Robbie Power, he found plenty after the last to conclusively prove his stamina for championship races over staying trips and mark himself down as the best three-mile chaser in training.
However, the rest of his career was blighted by injury and setbacks.
2016 - Don Cossack:![(full)Watch Replay (
Made amends for crashing out at the second-last in the King George (looked a major threat at time) earlier that season by running out a brilliant four-and-a-half length winner of the Gold Cup under Bryan Cooper.
Things might have been different had Cue Card, the King George hero, not come down out at the third-last fence when still seemingly full of running. Connections saw a potential £1 million bonus crash to the floor with him.
Injury prevented Don Cossack from defending his crown and he was not seen on a racecourse again.
2015 – Coneygree:
Became the first novice to win the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974 with a superb display of front-running.
The eight-year-old, having just his 11th career start, jumped superbly and dug deep in the closing stages to repel Djakadam and justify connections’ ambitious decision to skip the RSA Chase and head straight for the big one.
He was having only his fourth start over fences. More fragile than most, he never ran in the race again before being retired.
2014 - Lord Windermere:
Became the biggest-priced winner of the race this century after springing a 20-1 shock for trainer Jim Culloty, who won the race three times aboard Best Mate.
Official ratings illustrate that Lord Windermere is one of the lowest-rated winners of the race in recent times (6-4 market leader Bobs Worth disappointed) but his record at Prestbury Park was superb with an RSA Chase victory also on his CV.
2013 - Bobs Worth:
Justified favouritism with a seven-length success for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty.
In doing so, he became the first horse since the great Flying Bolt in the 1960s to win three different Cheltenham Festival races, having previously landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and the RSA Chase in 2012.
2012 – Synchronised:
The 2012 renewal had been billed as a clash between the great Kauto Star and the reigning champion Long Run, but the big match did not materialise as Kauto Star was pulled up before the 10th fence.
Tony McCoy took full advantage to win his first and only Gold Cup, galvanising the stamina-laden Synchronised to a power-packed finish that saw him clear of 50-1 chance The Giant Bolster and 7-4 favourite Long Run.
Tragically, Synchronised suffered a fatal injury in the Grand National the following month.
2011 - Long Run:
The 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup was a vintage renewal with the previous four winners all lining up, and the stage was set approaching the fourth last as all the main protagonists were in contention.
It was long Run, the new kid on the block, who upstaged them all by powering up the hill under amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen to become the first six-year-old since Mill House in 1963 to win the Gold Cup.
Long Run, who was imperious in the King George that season, had been perceived to be a ‘flat track bully’ before this emphatic seven-length success and the doubters were well and truly silenced.
2010 - Imperial Commander:
Imperial Commander had shown earlier in the 2009-10 season that he was capable of mixing it with the big boys when going down by just a nose to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase but was allowed to go off a 7-1 chance in the Gold Cup after a disappointing performance in the King George.
However, a completely different Imperial Commander turned up at the Festival in March and Paddy Brennan’s mount, who had won the Ryanair Chase 12 months earlier, thumped his rivals to the tune of seven lengths on rain-softened ground.
2009 - Kauto Star:
Only a special horse can win a Gold Cup by 13 lengths and Kauto Star was certainly that.
He was out for revenge, having gone down to stablemate Denman the previous season and the result was never in doubt as Ruby Walsh sat motionless on the Clive Smith-owned star before the pair sauntered clear from the third-last fence to win their second Gold Cup.
It was one of the most dominant performances in Gold Cup history, from one of the greatest steeplechasers.
2008 – Denman:
The meteoric rise of Denman, who had suffered defeat only once in 14 previous starts (when sent off a hot favourite for the 2006 Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle) reached a pinnacle in the 2008 Gold Cup when he faced stablemate and reigning champion Kauto Star.
Denman had a huge profile on and off the track, partly in thanks to his larger-than-life co-owner Harry Findlay, whose dreams were realised when ‘The Tank’ posted a monstrous performance, to the extent that he was awarded a BHA mark of 185, putting him on a par with the great Desert Orchid.
It was one of the great Gold Cup performances.Check out the Racing TV large screen app on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV devices, so you can enjoy the action on your TV screen! Click here for more details.
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