SHARPE MIND: Fascinating Farrago of Festival-Focused Facts
In this week’s blog, GRAHAM SHARPE rounds up some of the Cheltenham Festival’s little-known highlights…
⭕ THE FIRST Cheltenham Gold Cup, run in 1924 was worth £685 to the winner – the meeting’s main race then, the National Hunt Steeplechase, was worth £1285. 5/1 Red Splash won the inaugural Gold Cup, partnered by Welsh jockey, F.B. (Frederick Brychan) Rees, universally known as Dick, whose intended mount Alcazar had been withdrawn that morning. Winning trainer Fred Withington began his riding career in 1891 and trained 66/1 Rubio to the win the 1908 Grand National.
⭕ DISTEL won the 1946 Champion Hurdle under Irish jockey Bobby O’Ryan, rounding off that rider’s magnificent run of seven successive victories from his last seven rides. The 4/5 favourite was the first Irish-trained winner (Charlie Rogers) and was owned by eccentric Dorothy Paget.
⭕ IN FRONT at the last fence of the 1959 Gold Cup, Pas Seul fell, badly hampering Linwell, who impeded Lochroe – and handing the race to Bobby Beasley on 5/1 shot, Roddy Owen.
⭕ THIRD of four in the 1965 Gold Cup to the mighty Arkle, 1/10, with Mill House runner-up, 100/1 Stoney Crossing, was a former Olympic show-jumper, who had never previously contested a race in the UK and was ridden by owner/trainer Bill Roycroft -who lost some 20 lengths at the start by not being used to the tapes, but for which Bill was convinced they’d have finished second.
⭕ DAY ONE of the 1976 Festival saw Mrs Jenny Stamp become the event’s first ever female rider as, on the day after her 30th birthday, she partnered 25/1 Fair Gleam in the National Hunt Chase. Her pre-race changing quarters were a caravan in the course car park. The pair parted company in a fall at the 11th fence, as a result of which Jenny broke her collar bone.
⭕ GOLDEN CYGNET was a 15 length winner of the 1978 Supreme Novices Hurdle and tipped for greater glories – but a month later Edward O’Grady’s 6yo was dead, following a fatal final flight fall in the Scottish Champion Hurdle.
⭕ BREGAWN, CAPTAIN JOHN, WAYWARD LAD, SILVER BUCK, ASHLEY HOUSE – the first to fifth in the 1983 Gold Cup – all trained by Michael Dickinson.
⭕ JENNY PITMAN’S Burrough Hill Lad won the 1984 Gold Cup, under Phil Tuck – the first such to be trained by a woman….as on the same day Jacqui Oliver became the first female jockey to ride a treble over the sticks – which she achieved at Uttoxeter.
⭕ JONJO O’NEILL was carried shoulder-high into the winner’s enclosure by ecstatic fans of the great winning mare Dawn Run after she had added the 1986 Gold Cup to her 1984 victory in the Champion Hurdle,(also under Jonjo) completing a unique double by the horse, whose first career victory had been gained in a 1981 bumper at Traelee in which she was ridden by her 62 year old owner Charmian Hill in the saddle.
⭕ ‘LITTLE FISH ARE SWEET’ declared trainer Arthur Stephenson, to explain why , as his The Thinker was winning the Gold Cup in 1987 he was at Hexham racecourse with lesser lights of his stable……
⭕ GOING OUT to ride Time For A Run at the 1994 Festival, trainer Eddie O’Grady advised his jockey, Charle Swan to ride ‘with balls of steel’. He did just that in the 30 runner Coral Cup, steering the 11/1 shot to a one ad a half length victory, balls still intact.
⭕ JUDGE ESMONDE SMYTH postponed a hearing at his Irish civil court, so that witnesses could attend the 1996 Cheltenham Festival, declaring, ‘I would be a most unpatriotic judge if I did not accede to this request.’
⭕ IN 2004, Cheltenham issued an ‘initiative’ to racegoers: ‘We are keen to encourage more racegoers to share their journeys and we are working on setting up our own car-sharing network.’ Cynics suggested that maybe owners could travel with their horses to the same effect…. I was in attendance at this Festival with racing fan and pal, Mike Bishop, who rushed over to tell me ‘They’ve just announced that the Foundations (sixties hit band) are playing in the centre of the course. Transpired they were actually in action at the course’s Centaur arena!
⭕ THREE CARBERRY SIBLINGS – Nina, Paul and Philip, had rides in the 2008 Champion Hurdle – but it was 10/1 front-running 5yo Katchit, trained by Alan King and ridden by Robert Thornton – who was only told at 10pm the previous night he was riding – who came out on top.
⭕ RUN ON FRIDAY THE 13TH, of March, in the presence of The Queen, whose Barber Shop finished 7th of 16, the 2009 Gold Cup was won by 7/4 fav, Kauto Star, who became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup, having previously won and lost it. Denman was second – reversing the previous year’s 1-2. During that year’s Festival, Julie Williams – daughter of legendasry Cheltenham bookie, Freddie Williams, was interviewed by John McCririck – noticing in the process that Big Mac ‘was wearing his boots on the wrong feet.’
⭕ PERHAPS THE FINAL COMMENT ON THE FESTIVAL: ‘The most uncomfortable, expensive – and successful – sardine convention in the world’ was Alastair Down’s verdict, with which, as a result of my own experiences, I can only declare; ‘Hear, hear…….’