Cheltenham Gold Cup 2018 – Native River

The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured fifteen runners and looked competitive enough on paper, with the bookmakers offering 4/1 the field at the ‘off’. The King George VI Chase-winner Might Bite was sent off favourite, but was closely attended in the betting by Red Mills Chase-winner Our Duke, at 9/2, and Native River, third in 2017 and a ready, 12-length winner of his only race since, at 5/1. Beyond the market leaders, Co. Carlow trainer Willie Mullins – still seeking his first Cheltenham Gold Cup – saddled a quarter headed by Killultagh Vic, an unlucky final fence faller in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, at 8/1, while Definitly Red, trained by Brian Ellison, and Road To Respect, trained by Noel Meade, were also available at single-figure prices.

However, despite the open-looking nature of the contest, very few of the runners featured. Our Duke was particularly disappointing, never really travelling after a couple of mistakes around halfway and pulled up at the fourth-last fence when well behind. Killultagh Vic was similarly tailed off when pulled up between the last two fences and Definitly Red, while completing the course, was struggling a long way out and never threatened to be involved in the finish.

The race was dominated, from flagfall, by Native River and Might Bite, who had a real ding-dong battle for most of the way. Having made virtually all, Native River was narrowly headed by Might Bite at the second-last, but soon regained the advantage and stayed on very gamely on the run-in to win by 4½ lengths. Might Bite was essentially outstayed by his rival in the closing stages, but kept on for clear second-place, 4 lengths ahead of 33/1 chance Anibale Fly, who finished to good effect, but never had any chance of reeling in the front pair.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 – Synchronised

The 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured fourteen runners, including reigning champion Long Run and dual winner Kauto Star. A fortnight previously, Paul Nicholls, trainer of Kauto Star had rated his charge only ‘50-50’ to participate in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after a fall while schooling at home. Nevertheless, the pair dominated the betting, with Long Run sent off favourite, at 7/4, and Kauto Star next-best, at 3/1. The bookmakers went 8/1 bar the front two, which brought in Midnight Chase, trained by Neil Mulholland, Synchronised, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, Burton Port, trained by Nicky Henderson and Weird Al, trained by Donald McCain.

Once underway, Midnight Chase took the field along at a generous pace, but it soon became clear that jockey Ruby Walsh was less than happy with Kauto Star. After racing prominently in the early stages, the twelve-year-old lost his place and, after a mistake at the eighth fence, was pulled up before halfway. At the fourth-last fence, Midnight Chase blundered and surrendered the lead to Time For Rupert but, approaching two out, he was swamped by the horses that would eventually fight out the finish. The Giant Bolster, a largely unconsidered 50/1 outsider, took over at the head of affairs, but was pressed at the final fence by Long Run and Synchronised.

Long Run, though, could not summon the acceleration that had carried him to victory in 2011 and could only keep on at one pace on the run-in. By contrast, Synchronised, who had been off the bridle for most of the way, led soon after the final fence and kept on gamely to beat The Giant Bolster, who rallied for second place, by 2¼ lengths. Long Run eventually finished third, a further three-quarters of a length away. Winning jockey Tony McCoy later reflected on the victory of Synchronised, saying, ‘…when I missed the third-last I thought my chance had gone.’

Cheltenham Gold Cup 1963 – Mill House

History records that the career of Mill House – who remains the joint-fourth highest-rated steeplechaser since the early Sixties, according to Timeform – was largely over shadowed by Arkle, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running, in 1964, 1965 and 1966. However, when Mill House lined up, as a six-year-old, for his first attempt in the Cheltenham Hold Cup in 1963, he was hailed as the best horse in Britain in some quarters.

Owned by Bill Gollings and trained by Fulke Walwyn – who almost invariably referred to him as ‘The Big Horse’, on account of his near-seventeen hand height – Mill House was compared with multiple Gold Cup-winners Golden Miller and Easter Hero and was, at that stage, considered unbeatable. The 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup did little to counter that belief; the Tom Dreaper-trained Fortria, who had finished second, beaten just a length, behind Mandarin in the 1962 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was expected to pose a threat, but the projected duel failed to materialise.

Ridden by his regular partner, Willie Robinson, Mill House travelled and jumped imperiously throughout and, as soon as he was given his head turning for home, it became clear that, barring accidents, the race was all over bar the shouting. Another flying leap at the final fence put the result beyond any doubt and the towering bay gelding galloped home in splendid isolation, to rapturous applause from the home contingent. Fortria and Duke Of York both stayed on gamely in the closing stages, but there was no catching Mill House, who eventually beat Fortria by 12 lengths with Duke Of York a further 4 lengths away in third place.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008 – Denman

The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured just twelve runners, but included Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer, first and second in the 2007 renewal and Denman, winner of the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival and hitherto unbeaten over fences. Of course, Kauto Star and Denman, along with lesser-fancied stable companion Neptune Collonges, were saddled by Paul Nicholls but, even so, the race was billed in some quarters as the most eagerly-awaited renewal of the Gold Cup since Arkle beat Mill House in 1964.

The betting market had a slightly lopsided look to it, with defending champion Kauto Star sent off odds-on favourite at 10/11, ahead of Denman at 9/4, Exotic Dancer at 17/2 and 16/1 bar the leading trio, which brought in the narrow Welsh National runner-up Halcon Genelardais. Once the race was underway, 25/1 chance Neptune Collonges, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, cut out the running until early on the second circuit, but was headed by Denman, ridden by Sam Thomas, at the twelfth fence. Thereafter, the Presenting gelding was never headed and, although jumping the fourth-last fence less than fluently, soon went clear.

Kauto Star, whose jumping had lacked fluency throughout, gave chase under Ruby Walsh from the third last, but could make no real impression on Denman in the closing stages and had to settle for a creditable second, seven lengths behind the winner. The early leader, Neptune Collonges, rallied gamely from the second last and stayed on strongly to close to within a short head of Kauto Star at the line. In so doing, he completed a notable 1-2-3 in the ‘Blue Riband’ event for trainer Paul Nicholls, who said, “That was brilliant. It’s brilliant for the whole team.”