Famous races in the history of the Cheltenham Festival

February 28, 2018

It may be hard to imagine that spring is just around the corner with all the snow currently battering Britain, but come mid-March, Cheltenham Racecourse should be looking lush and green as thousands arrive in the Gloucestershire spa town and the runners and riders take to the course for the annual festival.

Fans will be hoping for some thrilling races, with the Gold Cup an obvious highlight and other exciting contests including the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Neptune Novices Hurdle and the Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

The Cheltenham Festival has been going in its current form as a steeplechasing event since 1911, although the original Gold Cup was a flat race run on nearby Cleeve Hill in 1819.

It is the Gold Cup that attracts the most attention, as one of Britain's premier horse races and the exciting climax to the festival. 

Were any of today's racegoers offered the chance to jump in a time machine and witness some of the Cheltenham festivals of the past, it is a fair bet many will have set the dial to the 1930s and gone to see the great Golden Miller in action. 

This wonder horse was just five years old when he achieved his first Gold Cup victory in 1932 - the first of five in a row before his bid for a sixth in 1937 - was thwarted not by another competitor, but by snow. Remarkably, he also won the 1934 Grand National, achieving a unique double.

Many more races have been memorable simply for the sheer brilliance of the winner. There might not be many people left alive now who can remember Golden Miller, but that is not be the case for more recent winners like Kauto Star, who came out on top in 2007 and 2009, or Best Mate, who secured a hat-trick of victories from 2002-04.

Of the tightest and best finishes, 1970 was a classic, with L'Escargot finally coming first after being neck-and-neck over the last fence with French Tan. 

Entering the race as a 33/1 outsider, L'Escargot proved the result was no fluke by winning in 1971 as well and then became the second horse to win the Grand National as well, albeit in different years unlike Golden Miller. That said, he had to defeat another legend to achieve the feat, overcoming Red Rum at Aintree in 1975.

Desert Orchid's 1989 victory was another for the archives. The horse had been a star at Kempton Park, winning the King George VI Chase four times. But with a tendency to jump to the right, a left-sided course like Cheltenham was always set to be harder. Poor weather and soft ground also mitigated against him. But he ran anyway and thrillingly overhauled Yahoo in the final furlongs. 

Of course, there have been many other great moments in the festival's other races too. The Queen Mother Champion Chase has seen some epics, such as the three-way fight to the line between Viking Flagship, Travado and Deep Sensation in 1994 and the tight finish between Edredon Blue and Direct Route in 2000.

Cheltenham really has had some truly wonderful races down the years - and fans will be expecting more of the same in 2018.

Image: Ian Walton/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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