Champion Stakes

The Champion Stakes is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 212 yards and is open to horses aged three years and upwards. It is, and always has been, a Group 1 contest, at least since the introduction of the European Pattern System in 1971. The Champion Stakes was inaugurated, at Newmarket, in 1877 and was run, without interruption, at ‘Headquarters’ until 2010. The roll of honour reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of middle-distance talent down the years and includes such luminaries as Petite Etoile, Sir Ivor, Brigadier Gerard, Pebbles and New Approach, to name but a handful.

 

Tristan, who won the Champion Stakes three years running in 1882, 1883 and 1884, is the most successful horse in the history of the race. Although the first documented use of a photo finish was in 1881, photo finish technology was not used in British horse racing until 1947, so the fact that the judge called a dead-heat between Tristan and Thebais on the first occasion and another, between Tristan and Lucerne, on the last may not be quite as remarkable as it first appears.

 

Nowadays, the Champion Stakes is run at Ascot, where it is the highlight of British Champions Day in October each year. The race is, in fact, the finale of the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series, which was staged for the first time in 2011. At that time, the Champion Stakes was transferred to Ascot, with appropriate hoo-ha and a hike in prize money, from £350,000 to £1.3 million, which made it the most valuable race of its kind in Europe.

 

In 2012, the Champion Stakes was won by Frankel, who, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 147, is the highest-rated horse in the history of the organisation, and was completing a perfect 14-race winning streak. In 2014, his full brother, Noble Mission, upheld the family tradition by recording an emotional victory in the Champion Stakes for Lady Jane Cecil, while in 2017 and 2018 his son, Cracksman, did likewise, winning the Champion Stakes impressively by 7 lengths and 6 lengths, respectively.

How Does the Cheltenham Gold Cup Compare To Other Leading Races Around The World?

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is by far and away the richest and most prestigious Grade 1 contest in the British National Hunt season. It stands alongside the likes of Wimbledon and the FA Cup final as one of the biggest sporting events of the year and it always draws a huge audience. The entire Cheltenham Festival is the most important meeting of the season and the Gold Cup is the pièce de résistance within that. But how does it compare to other leading races from around the world? We have broken it down into a few key categories in order to analyse this:

Prize money

For many people, the easiest way to gauge the importance of a sporting event is to take a look at the cold, hard cash at stake.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup offers £625,000 in prize money, making it the richest Grade 1 race in the UK. However, the Grand National trumps it by handing out £1 million, while the Epsom Derby, a Group 1 flat contest, is Britain’s richest race as it carries prize money of £1.5 million.

When you look further afield, you see some truly eye-watering sums being offered. The Dubai World Cup boosted prize money to a cool $12 million (£9 million), overtaking the Pegasus World Cup in Florida as the world’s richest race. In 2018, the Pegasus offered a record $16 million, but in 2019 it split that across two Grade 1 races – the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the new $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. Meanwhile, the Everest in Sydney has a prize pot of AU$13 million (£7 million) and races like the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Japan Cup all vastly outstrip the Cheltenham Gold Cup in this respect.

Heritage

The Cheltenham Gold Cup has an extremely rich heritage and legends such as Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate, Kauto Star and Mill House have all triumphed here.

The first Cheltenham Gold Cup took place in July 1819 as Spectre earned his owner a prize of 100 guineas by finishing first. It was first run as a jumps race in 1924, so that is the official date of its inauguration, but it is fair to say that it has a long and magnificent history.

The Dubai World Cup cannot compete with that, as it was only launched in 1996, while the Pegasus and the Everest only began in 2017. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe can match the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of its fine heritage, as can the Grand National and the UK’s leading flat races, but it is certainly nestled comfortably within a small and elite group in this regard.

Spectacle

The Cheltenham Gold Cup has really captured the imagination of the British and Irish public thanks to the enthralling spectacle it provides. The leading stayers in the business slog it out for 3 miles 2½ furlongs and they must clear 22 challenging fences during that time. It finishes with a final lung-busting dash up the hill in front of a screaming sea of fans and one runner earns fame and fortune by crossing the line ahead of the chasing pack. There is nothing quite like it in the world of horse racing.

The Grand National is longer, but it turns into a bit of a free for all, full of chaos as horses tumble all over the place. Punters know that they are watching only the elite runners battling for victory in the Gold Cup and it becomes a huge betting event as leading sites such as SportingIndex.com offer all manner of exciting markets. Jumps racing is only really popular in the UK and Ireland, so you do not have the added drama of clearing fences in other races across the world. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a true adrenaline ride, as your heart is in your mouth every time the horse you backed attempts a tricky jump. It is also hard to beat Cheltenham when it comes to grandeur, pomp and ceremony, and the entire day offers a fine spectacle, set against a gorgeous backdrop.

Prestige

The Gold Cup is the most prestigious race in the entire National Hunt calendar and it always draws a field that is teeming with elite talent. The runners line up at 3.30pm on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival and millions tune in for the action. It attracts all the leading trainers, jockeys and horses in the National Hunt scene, and whoever prevails becomes an instant superstar. You simply do not see that in flat racing due to its geographical spread. Many people wonder what would happen if Winx took on Cracksman, but it will never happen as they are competing at opposite ends of the world. All the leading jumps runners head to Cheltenham and whoever wins the Gold Cup is the absolute star of the sport, so the prestige is arguably unrivalled.

Vertem Futurity Trophy (aka Racing Post Trophy)

The Vertem Futurity Trophy is the final Group 1 race of the British Flat racing season. Open to two-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies – the latter receive a 3lb weight allowance – but not geldings, the race is run over a straight mile at Doncaster Racecourse, a.k.a. Town Moor, and is staged annually in October.

 

Inaugurated, as the Timeform Gold Cup, in 1961, the juvenile feature was subsequently run as the Observer Gold Cup, the William Hill Futurity and the Racing Post Trophy before Vertem Stockbrokers took over sponsorship in 2018. The 2018 renewal was worth £131,000 to the winner, with a total purse of £200,000. The outcome of the Vertem Futurity Trophy almost invariably has an effect on the betting for the Derby the following year; at the time of writing, the 2018 winner, Magna Grecia, trained by Aidan O’Brien, is quoted at 20/1 joint second favourite for the 2019 renewal of the Epsom Classic.

 

All in all, five horses have completed the Vertem Futurity Trophy – Derby double. The first of them, Reference Point, was the sixth of 10 winners of the Vertem Futurity Stakes for the late Sir Henry Cecil – who remains the most successful trainer in the history of the race – in 1986 and, as a three-year-old, won not only the Derby, but also the Dante, King George, Great Voltigeur and St. Leger.

 

The last of them, Camelot, was similarly the sixth of nine winners of the Vertem Futurity Stakes for Aidan O’Brien in 2012 and, having won the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, came within 1½ lengths of becoming the first horse since Nijinsky, in 1970, to win the Triple Crown. In between times, the other three horses to complete the Vertem Futurity Trophy – Derby double were High Chaparral, also trained by Aidan O’Brien, in 2001/02, Motivator, trained by Michael Bell, in 2004/05 and Authorized, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, in 2006/07.