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Posted on Thu 25 Jan
Cheltenham Festival promises four extraordinary days of horse racing in March, and 2024 marks the centenary of its most celebrated race: The Gold Cup. With Gold Cup Day bringing the festival to a close on Friday 15 March, racing fans will be champing at the bit to experience the occasion. We took a dive into the history of Cheltenham’s premier race, to find out more...
One of the most important events in the racing calendar, Cheltenham Festival’s Gold Cup Steeplechase - sponsored by Boodles since 2022 - is celebrating its centenary this year.
The race takes place over a distance of three miles, two furlongs and 70 yards (or 5,294 metres in new money), with 22 fences to be jumped.
The Gold Cup was established as one of the first major steeplechase races run without a handicap - the practice of equalising the competitors’ chances by adding weights to better horses. In its 100-year history, it has grown to become Britain’s most prestigious non-handicap race.
And Cheltenham Racecourse is certainly commemorating its centenary in style, with the trophy itself featuring heavily in celebrations.
The now-iconic cup - first presented to Red Splash, the winning horse back in 1924 - is comprised of 9 and 18 carat gold, so the race is certainly fittingly named.
After being stored for some time in a bank vault, the original cup was returned to Cheltenham in 2018 to become the festival’s perpetual trophy. A tour of schools, hospitals, care homes and clubs in the area is planned in the run-up to Gold Cup Day, offering a taste of local history.
Another objective during the Gold Cup’s centenary year is to raise funds for charity. The first allocation of funds has already been donated to worthy causes, including Cheltenham Tigers Wheelchair Rugby Club, Cass & Friends - which offers financial and mindset support to young and aspiring athletes - and Headway Gloucestershire, which works to improve life after brain injury.
In June last year, a team of fundraisers from Cheltenham Racecourse were joined by familiar faces from racing to complete an exciting challenge on behalf of The Jockey Club’s charity, Racing Welfare. In just four days, and accompanied by the Gold Cup trophy itself, they climbed the highest peaks in Ireland, Wales and England, before heading to Scotland for the final mountain of the challenge.
The team were joined by jockeys Barry Geraghty, who climbed Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest peak, Graham McCourt for the Snowdon climb in Wales, and Richard Johnson for England’s Scafell Pike.
The home stretch of the challenge was the ascent of Arkle, a mountain in the Scottish Highlands which shares its name with the famous horse that won the Gold Cup three years in a row in the mid-1960s.
Although the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival, the four-day event has plenty else on offer for visitors to enjoy, with each day bringing something a bit different. Usually taking place around St Patrick’s Day, the festival inspires a healthy rivalry between competitors from Ireland and Great Britain, as they battle it out to win the most races.
The festival also offers excellent shopping, impressive hospitality and plenty of live music - not to mention a truly memorable atmosphere: the celebrated ‘Cheltenham Roar’ from the crowd at the start of the first race has to be heard to be believed.
As usual, for fans of racing, the 2024 edition of the festival will have plenty of excitement on offer across the board. And this year’s Gold Cup - run in the race’s centenary year - will surely be an occasion that lives long in the memory... Don’t miss it.
Cheltenham Festival runs from Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 March at Cheltenham Racecourse, with The Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeplechase taking place on Friday 15 March
By Jessica Clixby
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