Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016

The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured nine runners, but looked competitive enough, with the bookmakers betting 9/4 Don Cossack, 5/2 Cue Card, 9/2 Djakadam and Don Poli and 10/1 bar that quartet. Cue Card, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Paddy Brennan, was travelling well in a share of the lead when falling at the third-last fence but, thereafter, the finish was dominated by the other three market leaders.

Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper, had won his last six completed starts and had only been 2 lengths down, and staying on, when falling at the second-last when favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, won by Cue Card, the previous Boxing Day. The nine-year-old appeared, on paper, to fully deserve his position at the head of the market and so it proved in the race.

Bearing the familiar maroon and white colours of Gigginstown House Stud, Don Cossack raced prominently throughout and, after taking the lead at the third-last fence, took command on the run-in and only had to be pushed out to win by 4½ lengths. The luckless Djakadam, who might have finished a little closer but for ‘fiddling’ the penultimate obstacle, finished runner-up for the second year running and Don Poli – wearing the second colours of Gigginstown House Stud, but trained, like Djakadam, by Willie Mullins – completed an Irish-trained 1-2-3.

Don Cossack was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliot, who later admitted that he had ‘never been so nervous’ in his life, but a second for Gigginstown House Stud, following the victory of War Of Attrition, trained by Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, a decade earlier. On his retirement, due to injury, the following January, Elliot called Don Cossack ‘a horse of a lifetime’.

Tiger Roll

Of course, Tiger Roll became a household name when, in April, 2019, he became the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, in 1974, to record back-to-back victories in the Grand National. However, even before his first attempt in the Aintree marathon in 2018, Tiger Roll had made a name for himself at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2014, he won the Grade One Triumph Hurdle over 2 miles and 79 yards on the New Course at Prestbury Park, in 2016, after being switched to steeplechasing, he won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over 3 miles 7 furlongs and 147 yards on the Old Course and, in 2018, he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase over 3 miles 6 furlongs on the Cross Country Course. In 2019, Tiger Roll confirmed himself as a true Cheltenham Festival ‘legend’ when making light of a 9lb rise in the weights to win the same race again, by 22 lengths from the 2016 winner, Josies Orders.

Interestingly, Tiger Roll was originally owned by Sheikh Mohammed, but has only ever contested one Flat race – a 2-mile maiden race at Dundalk, in which he finished second – and, even then, only as a six-year-old, in 2016, by which time he had long been in the care of his current trainer, Gordon Elliot. He was bought by Michael O’Leary, the owner of Gigginstown House Stud, after making a winning debut for his previous trainer, Nigel Hawke, and was sent to Elliott as a likely contender for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll exceeded expectations by not only contesting, but winning, the Triumph Hurdle on just his second start for his new connections.

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being ‘a little rat of a thing’, according to his owner – Tiger Roll is diminutive, especially for a steeplechaser, at fewer than 16 hands – after a spell in the doldrums, the Authorized gelding found fame over the larger obstacles and, at least so far, has never fallen. Admirable though Tiger Roll is, O’Leary is on the record as saying that he is very unlikely to attempt to emulate Red Rum by running in the Grand National again in 2020. His ‘swansong’ may well be the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, once again, in which victory would be his fifth at the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival vs The Grand National

The week before last my sleeping hours were just about night owl-like enough that I managed to stay up to watch the Tyson Fury vs Wilder fight, beamed live from Vegas. Predictions beforehand were very much up in the air, would Fury’s rope a dope style see him through, would Wilder land one of his ‘lights out’ punches that he’s notorious for? As it turned out Fury continued confounding critics by being the one with the dominant display and power. But I got to thinking, why should it always be people squaring up to each each. Who would win a fight and what would the tale of the tape be between the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival. Well what we we waiting for.. Let’s get ready to rumble!

The Cheltenham Festival certainly has a lot going for it. Four days of quality racing action, with 28 races in total, are nothing short of a gift to those who like a bet or two (or three!). The on-course atmosphere is second to none, with the trademark Cheltenham Roar being let out by the crowd at the start of the first race. With such prestigious races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Arkle Challenge Trophy and Champion Hurdle the action is relentless. Many horses have made their name at the Festival, such as Golden Miller (who won the Gold Cup three times in the 30s) as well as Arkle and Best Mate who matched it decades later. Prize money is substantial; a £625,000 purse for the Gold Cup in 2019 for instance, and TV viewing figures are impressive considering the spread of races over days. In 2018 11 races drew in more than a million viewers.

The Grand National speaks for itself. Held in Aintree, Liverpool each year bar one since 1839, it’s a legend maker of a race. It’s one race that creates ‘water cooler’ moments by getting everyone talking and involved, whether via placing a bet online, following tips for the Grand National or having a friendly wager with mates. The most successful horse ever in the Grand National is likely also the exact same answer you’d most frequently get if you randomly asked strangers to name a horse. It’s none other than three time Grand National winner Red Rum. While Tiger Roll may do his best to steal his crowd this year, Red Rum has certainly done more than enough to secure his place in the racing history books.

Domestic viewing figures for the Grande National have been known to touch an impressive ten million, and a worldwide audience of between 500 and 600 million. Even outside of racing not many sporting audiences can rival that, which must tell you something.

So who has wins this tussle between these two highlights of the racing year? Well Cheltenham was on the ropes there for a minute due to the astounding Grand National viewing figures, but this has to be weighed up against the four day feast of racing that the festival offers. I hate to be a bore but it’s a close run thing, and as such much like the first Fury vs Wilder fight, I’m going to have to declare this one a DRAW! Depending on how each pan out in 2020, we may be due a rematch in the near future!

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