Saturday, 8 February 2020

Was the Cheltenham Gold Cup once run on the Flat?

The simple answer is yes, it was. More than a century before the Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated in its more familiar guise, as a steeplechase run at Prestbury Park, in 1924, a race of the same name was run for the first time on Cleeve Hill, or Cleeve Cloud, which dominates the skyline to the north-east of the current racecourse, in 1819.

According to Baily’s Racing Register, in its original incarnation, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or Piece of Plate, was contested over three miles, on the Flat, with a value of 100 guineas, added to a sweepstakes of 20 guineas each. The race was won by the four-year-old bay colt, Spectre, owned by a certain Mr. Bodenham, who carried 6st 7lb to victory, after finishing second in the Gloucestershire Stakes, over two miles, at the same venue two days earlier. Interestingly, the second horse home, Zenith, was owned by John Rous, a.k.a. Lord Rous, whose second son, Henry John Rous, was later appointed Jockey Club Steward.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Tiger Roll Keeps On Rolling in the 2019 Grand National

The pre-race hype surrounding the 2019 renewal of the Grand National was all about Tiger Roll, owned by Michael O’Leary and trained by Gordon Elliott, who was attempting to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, in 1974, to win the celebrated steeplechase two years running. At one point, there was even talk of Tiger Roll starting a shorter-priced favourite than Poethlyn, who won the 1919 renewal, under Ernie Piggott, at odds of 11/4.

In the end, common sense prevailed, at least to a degree, and Tiger Roll was sent off 4/1 favourite on the day. In truth, apart from a couple of stumbles at Valentine’s Brook and the following fence on the second circuit, from which he quickly recovered, the diminutive steeplechaser barely gave his supporters and anxious moment. He led, going well, between the last two fences and readily drew clear before being ridden out in the closing stages to hold 66/1 chance Magic Of Light by 2¾ lengths. Tiger Roll did, in fact, become the shortest-priced winner of the National since Poethlyn and his victory made Gordon Elliot – who also saddled Silver Birch in 2007 – the first trainer since the late Tim Forster to train three National winners.

Elliott took no chances, saddling a record eleven runners, although his next-best finisher was 50/1 chance A Toi Phil, who finished twelfth, 34¾ lengths behind the winner. Also among the also-rans were Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Anibale Fly, who stayed on inside the final furlong to finish fifth, but could never really land a blow, and 2017 winner One For Arthur, who weakened on the notoriously long run-in to finish a place behind. However, the 2019 Grand National will always be remembered for the performance of ‘rock star’ Tiger Roll, as winning jockey Davy Russell later called him, and although a third attempt is highly unlikely, his place in National history is assured.