For many racing people Royal Ascot is all about the Thursday, traditionally “Ladies’ Day” and the day when the week’s showpiece race takes place: the Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup is of course a Group 1 contest, open to horses aged four years or older. It takes place over two and a half miles, with the field starting up the home straight before travelling a whole circuit.
It is Britain’s most prestigious event for stayers and usually defines the champion stayer of the season.
The event was established in 1807 and it was originally open to horses aged three or older. The inaugural winner, Master Jackey, was awarded prize money of 100 guineas. The first race took place in the presence of King George III and Queen Charlotte.
Folklore has it that the 1844 running was attended by Nicholas I of Russia, who was making a state visit to England. That year’s winner was unnamed at the time of his victory, but he was given the name “The Emperor” in honour of the visiting monarch. In return Nicholas offered a new trophy for the race — the “Emperor’s Plate” — and this became the title of the event for a short period. However nine years later the Gold Cup was restored as the Crimean War took effect.
Despite the race’s long and illustrious history, some of the most momentous Gold Cups have taken place in recent years. Yeats became the most successful horse in Gold Cup history when he won his fourth consecutive renewal in 2009. Then in 2013 Estimate won the race marking the first time in 207 years of the Gold Cup that the race had been won by the reigning Monarch.
Another landmark of recent times has been jockey Lester Piggott’s surely unattainable haul of 11 victories in the race, thanks to: Zarathustra (1957), Gladness (1958), Pandofell (1961), Twilight Alley (1963), Fighting Charlie (1965), Sagaro (1975, 1976 and 1977), Le Moss (1979) and Ardross (1981 and 1982).
No fewer than seven trainers share the record total for winners (five) and three of those have been in recent times; Sir Henry Cecil won with: Le Moss (1979 and 1980), Ardross (1981 and 1982) and Paean (1987); Saeed bin Suroor won with: Classic Cliche (1996), Kayf Tara (1998 and 2000), Papineau (2004) and Colour Vision (2012); while Aidan O’Brien won with Yeats in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and again with Fame and Glory in 2011.
Bizarre became the first horse to retain the title winning in 1824 and 1825 and by that time trainer William Chifney was well on the way to training his five winners of the race, accomplished thanks to: Anticipation (1816), Belville (1818), Marcellus (1823), Memnon (1827) and Zinganee (1829).
John Scott became the next five-time winning trainer with Glaucus starting his run in 1834 and followed by dual winner Touchstone (1836 and 1837), Woolwich (1851) and West Australian (1854).
In 1842 the extraordinary mare Beeswing landed her biggest prize by winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot; in total she won 51 races out of 57 she completed.
The Emperor and The Hero were dual winners in the same decade and in 1850 the much-celebrated The Flying Dutchman added his name to the list of winners. The Flying Dutchman won the Derby and St Leger and won the most famous match race of them all when he defeated Voltigeur. Fisherman ended the 1850’s with back-to-back victories in the race.
One of turf racing’s all-time greats won the 1866 renewal as Gladiateur, bred in France but trained in Newmarket by Tom Jennings Snr, added the Gold Cup to his earlier English Triple Crown. His victory at Ascot was by 40 lengths. His trainer added another four victories courtesy of: Mortemer (1871), Henry (1872), Verneuil (1878) and Gold (1890).
During this era John Porter became the next trainer to saddle the winner of the Gold Cup five times through the exploits of: Blue Gown (1868), Isonomy (1879 and 1880), Althorp (1886) and William the Third (1902).
Two outstanding wins in consecutive years were St Simon, who retired unbeaten and had a glittering career at stud. The following year St Gatien, who had won the Derby a year earlier, recovered from life-threatening illness to win the Gold Cup.
As the 19th Century came towards a close there was still time for the outstanding Persimmon to add a Gold Cup to his Derby and St Leger victories. The colt was owned and bred by the Prince of Wales.
Alec Taylor, Jr, also had time to land the first of his five victories thanks to Love Wisely in 1896 and followed up with: Bayardo (1910), Aleppo (1914), Gay Crusader (1917) and Gainsborough (1918).
The White Knight in 1907 and 1908 and then Prince Palatine in 1912 and 1913 were the first dual winners of the race in the 20th Century.
In 1917, Gay Crusader won a Wartime substitute Triple Crown and the Newmarket Gold Cup which substituted for the Gold Cup at Ascot. A year later the great Gainsborough repeated the feat winning all four contests at Newmarket.
The top class Solario won the race in 1926 and then Invershin landed back-to-back triumphs in 1928 and 1929 – a feat also accomplished by Trimdon in 1931 and 1932 although the star turn at Royal Ascot during this period was undoubtedly Brown Jack who won the Queen Alexandra Stakes between 1929 and 1934.
The Second World War led to the Gold Cup again taking place at Newmarket between 1941 and 1944 and a decade of turmoil ended with a high class winner in 1949 as Alycidon claimed the Stayer’s Triple Crown.
By the late 1950’s the legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien had switched codes and was training Flat racehorses, after winning practically everything there was to win in National Hunt racing. His great race mare Gladness landed the 1958 Gold Cup and added the Goodwood Cup and Ebor Handicap for good measure.
In 1964 there was no Gold Cup on account of waterlogging but Fighting Charlie won the next two renewals. In 1969 Levmoss achieved a remarkable treble as he won the Gold Cup, the Prix Du Cardan (France’s equivalent) and the Prix De l’Arc de Triomphe.
The 1970s seemed to attract controversy at Royal Ascot as a succession of disqualifications affected the big races. The luckless Rock Roi finished first in 1971 and 1972, but he was disqualified both times. In 1971 he failed a dope test and the race was awarded to Random Shot. A year later a bumping match with the grey Erimo Hawk resulted in placings being reversed.
However no such doubts would befall Sagaro, who dominated the mid Seventies’ staying division, having shown his class in 1974, when he defeated Bustino in the Grand Prix de Paris. However Sagaro’s future lay in longer races and he won the Gold Cup in 1975, 1976 and 1977 for the legendary French trainer Francois Boutin, with Lester Piggott in the saddle on each occasion.
In 1978, with Sagaro retired, Shangamuzo won the Gold Cup for an up and coming young trainer called Michael Stoute. However Shangamuzo was no match for a pair of Henry Cecil hotpots the following year, as the outstanding Le Moss got the better of his hugely talented but injury-ravaged stable mate Buckskin. Henry Cecil had put so much effort into even getting Buckskin to the racecourse for one last hurrah, that he was moved to tears in a television interview afterwards.
Le Moss was back again in 1980 and although he had become lazy at home, his class shone through as he defeated the next star of the staying division Ardross. The pair duelled throughout 1980 with Le Moss always just holding enough advantage to win.
When Le Moss retired at the end of 1980, Charles St George, one of the dominant owners of the era, purchased Ardross and sent him to Henry Cecil. The horse struck up an immediate partnership with Lester Piggott and was a quite brilliant winner of the Gold Cup in 1981 and again in 1982, ending his career with an agonising defeat by inches in the Arc de Triomphe.
A year later the brave Little Wolf won the Gold Cup and then Gildoran, ridden by American Steve Cauthen, landed back-to-back wins in 1984 and 1985. Longboat landed the 1986 renewal before Henry Cecil’s fifth triumph came in 1987 with Paean and Cauthen.
But more drama awaited in 1988. The horse first past the post was the much-travelled ex-Spanish and now French-trained Royal Gait, who won the race decisively, running away from his rivals in the final furlong under American jockey Cash Asmussen. However, in the home straight, as the front running El Conquistador dropped back, rolling against the rails, Royal Gait made contact and the tired horse stumbled and unseated his rider Tony Clark. Royal Gait proceeded to romp away from Sadeem, the stable mate of El Conquistador, eventually finished five lengths to the good. But the stewards saw a problem and sensationally disqualified Royal Gait despite the fact he was clearly the best horse in the race. Furthermore it seemed a matter of conjecture as to whether he was fully to blame for the El Conquistador incident. But the decision was made and Sadeem won the race. Royal Gait later won a Champion Hurdle but his life ended tragically short as he collapsed and died after finishing fourth in a race at Leopardstown. Sadeem meanwhile, made good use of his luck and landed a second Gold Cup in 1989.
In 1990 Ashal provided jockey Richard Hills with the first of many Group 1s in a terrific career and a year later the popular Indian Queen won the race. The classy Drum Taps then won in 1992 and 1993 before the almost savage Arcadian Heights – famed for trying to take a chunk out of a rival mid-race, won the 1994 Gold Cup.
In 1995 Double Trigger added a worthy name to the trophy although his greatest triumphs came at Doncaster where he won three Doncaster Cups.
The classy St Leger winner Classic Cliche won the race in 1996, a first triumph for Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor and after Celeric won the following year, the Royal blue colours were back in the winners’ circle thanks to the hugely talented Kayf Tara who won in 1998 and 2000, but was defeated by Enzeli in 1999 in an unusually large field of seventeen.
The tough and admirable Royal Rebel became the first dual winner of the new Century in 2001 and 2002 and then Mr Dinos won the Gold Cup in 2003.
Papineau added a further Gold Cup for Godolphin in 2004 before the Royal Ascot meeting moved to York in 2005. That year saw a very classy French winner in Westerner who was equally adept at mixing it with the very best middle distance horses over much shorter distances.
However Westerner’s accomplishment was quickly forgotten as Yeats dominated the race for the next four years and put the Gold Cup back on the front pages for the first time in decades. The Aidan O’Brien trained colt had been favourite for the 2004 Derby at Epsom but injury had ended his season. He return in 2005 and won the Coronation Cup, underlining what might have been in the Derby. As a 5 year old his stamina was tested in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and under Kieren Fallon, the son of Sadlers Wells was still able to use his burst of speed at the end of the stamina sapping contest.
Yeats was back in 2007 and this time defeated Geordieland by a length and a half with Mick Kinane in the saddle. The big question now was could he emulate Sagaro and win a remarkable third Gold Cup. The answer came in June 2008 as new stable jockey Johnny Murtagh pushed Yeats out to beat his old foe Geordieland by 5 lengths.
When news came through that Yeats would be staying in training in 2009, there was really only ever one target in everyone’s minds. Eight horses took the champion on but swinging for home the only real danger was Patkai; yet Murtagh and Yeats, now an 8 year old, strode away from his younger rival to record a 3 ½ length victory and a unique place in history. Yeats retired to stud every inch a champion as he breeding had demanded, albeit unexpectedly through his reputation had been forged thanks to the Gold Cup.
Horses like Yeats really helped to re-establish the prestige of the Gold Cup and to re-kindle memories of earlier times when Derby winners and classy horses would step up in trip for the big race at Royal Ascot.
After the classy but injury-prone Rite Of Passage had won in 2010, Aidan O’Brien gave his smart Irish Derby winner Fame and Glory the target to win an Ascot Gold Cup. The top class five year old had often given the superstar Sea The Stars the most to think about in races and was an outstanding Group 1 colt in his own right. But stamina was a question mark. Rain-softened ground added doubt to the equation but Fame and Glory’s class saw him battle home three lengths clear of Opinion Poll.
A year later Fame and Glory’s run came to an end as the grey horse Colour Vision gave Frankie Dettori another Gold Cup victory, leading home a Godolphin one-two ahead of the luckless Opinion Poll.
Colour Vision was back to defend his title in 2013 but the race held more sensation as Her Majesty The Queen watched her own horse Estimate – trained by Michael Stoute – now a Knight, who had won the race way back in 1978 with Shangamuzo. Estimate beat Simenon by a dramatic neck after such a long contest but the winning margin was irrelevant given the scenes of frivolity that greeted the Royal winner.
In 2014 the cream rose to the top as the classy St Leger winner Leading Light got the better of the thrilling fight with two top class mares Estimate and Missunited.
The 2015 renewal of the Gold Cup looked an open contest beforehand, but produced a worthy champion in Trip To Paris.
In 2016 the cream very much rose to the top as Order Of St George showed a terrific turn of foot to win most impressively. The Aidan O’Brien trained four year old evoked memories of Ardross, such was his class – and like that horse before him, went on to place in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe later in the year.
Order Of St George was back the following year and part of an unforgettable battle.
Michael Bell’s popular Big Orange had already made his name as a Group Two horse over middle distances, but had the propensity to race over further.
He set out in his own inimitable style, to try to make all at Royal Ascot. In the home straight, Big Orange was joined by Order Of St George and an enthralling fight ensued all the way down the home straight.
The two warriors flashed past the post together, with Big Orange holding on in an epic race.
A few weeks later, Big Orange was beaten by an emerging three year-old stayer in the first ever Group One Goodwood Cup. His name was Stradivarius.
Throughout 2018, the John Gosden trained Stradivarius dominated the stayer’s division and he duly won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot under Frankie Dettori, beating the prolific French stayer Vazirabad,
Winners of the Gold Cup:
|1850||The Flying Dutchman||4|
|1881||Robert the Devil||4|
|1887||Bird of Freedom||5|
|1902||William the Third||4|
|1907||The White Knight||4|
|1908||The White Knight||5|
|no race 1964, course waterlogged [a]|
|2010||Rite of Passage||6|
|2011||Fame and Glory||5|
|2015||Trip To Paris||4|
|2016||Order Of St George||4|