The Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of the racing year for followers of National Hunt racing with an estimated £500 million gambled over the course of the four days.
A report published in 2013 by a leading bookmaker revealed that 19 of the top 40 betting races of the year had taken place at the Cheltenham festival. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was second only to the Grand National in terms of turnover with the Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle and Champion Chase all featuring in the top eleven.
The nine-year-old gelding was trained by Welsh farmer Sirrel Griffiths, only the second Gold Cup winner to come out of Wales after Patron Saint in 1928. He had run respectably in the King George VI Chase at Kempton but was considered a virtual no-hoper against the people’s favourite Desert Orchid.
There had always been a stamina doubt about Desert Orchid up the Cheltenham hill and the grey could not go with Norton’s Coin and Toby Tobias in the closing stages. Under a strong ride from Graham McCourt, Norton’s Coin battled on bravely to win by three-quarters of a length to pull off the most astonishing Cheltenham results in history.
The Famous Five
Arguably the most amazing of Cheltenham results of all time was the Gold Cup in 1983 when Michael Dickinson trained the first five home. Dickinson had taken over the Yorkshire stables from his parents and was only 33 years of age at the time of his greatest training triumph.
Bregawn was sent off 100-30 favourite under Graham Bradley having come up through the handicap. He came home in front of Captain John (David Goulding) and Wayward Lad (Jonjo O’Neill). Wayward Lad won three King George VI Chases but could never quite get home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Silver Buck had won the 1982 Gold Cup but had an interrupted preparation in 1983 and was partnered by Robert Earnshaw. He finished fourth with Ashley House (Dermot Browne) completing the “Famous Five” for Dickinson.
There have been two 50-1 winners of the Champion Hurdle, providing two of the biggest shock Cheltenham results of all time. The first was Kirriemuir in 1965 with Beech Road returning at the same price in 1989.
He was trained by Toby Balding and ridden by Richard Guest, beating the strongly fancied Celtic Chief by two lengths. His long career spanned 64 races and he won 18 times over a variety of distances. He had a bad fall over fences so the decision was taken to keep him to hurdling for the remainder of his career. Beech Road was retired to the his owners farm in Cornwall in 1996 and passed away at the age of 29 in 2011.
The shortest SP at Cheltenham was the 1-10 returned for Arkle when he won the Gold Cup for a third time in 1966. He was 7-4 when defeating Mill House in 1964 and 100-30 on favourite when following up in 1965. He won 27 of his 35 races and is still widely regarded as the greatest steeplechaser of all time.
He was trained by Tom Dreaper who also had care of the brilliant Flying Bolt, officially rated just 1lb lower than Arkle at one stage of his racing career. The Champion Chase of 1966 is notable for his starting price of 1-5 favourite, the shortest SP return for the race in history.
He was ridden by Arkle’s regular partner Pat Taaffe and won eased down by 15 lengths. Nothing quite so explosive has been seen in the two-mile chasing division until Sprinter Sacre won the race at odds of 1-4 in 2013. Nicky Henderson’s star chaser won by 19 lengths from former champion Sizing Europe, providing one of the most popular Cheltenham results of recent years.