Cheltenham Gold Cup: The key predictors of success
The Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the biggest single events on the global racing calendar, with a rich history dating back almost a century.
With the world’s leading racehorses set to compete over the famous 22 fences on March 17, we have analysed the last 20 Gold Cups to identify the key predictors of success.
How often does the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite win?
The brutal nature of the Cheltenham course – which has seen one in four horses fail to finish over the past two decades – demands that the cream rise to the top.
The favourite has triumphed in 10 of the previous 20 Gold Cups, including last year when A Plus Tard was backed at 3/1 before going on to surge clear of the field and win by 15 lengths. With 2021 winner Minella Indo in second and the highly-tipped Protektorat in third, last year’s podium finishers were all priced at 10/1 or shorter.
Over the past 20 years, only Lord Windermere in 2014 and Al Boum Photo in 2019 have won when priced outside the top four favourites.
The 2019 race was especially unusual, with the leading three horses all backed at 12/1 or longer and the favourite – Presenting Percy – struggling to an eighth-place finish. All of the podium finishers in subsequent years started with shorter odds.
Is it worth backing youth or experience?
All but six of the last 20 Cheltenham Gold Cup winners were aged seven or eight at the time of their triumph, with nine-year-old Don Cossack the most recent exception in 2016.
While eight-year-olds have won the most races in this period, including four of the last five, the success of the cohort is boosted by their sheer numbers. Younger horses have a better success rate overall, with more than a third of entrants aged seven or below managing to place.
The gruelling circuit favours the athleticism of youth, with fewer than one in 10 horses aged 10 or older finishing in the top three. Almost a third of participants in this age bracket fail to reach the finish line.
Who has the best Cheltenham Gold Cup record?
While age can prove to be a disadvantage, experience of challenging for the Gold Cup has increasingly paid off in recent years. Three of the last five winners were on the podium in the previous year, compared with none of the eight before that.
All three returned to Cheltenham with the same jockey-trainer combination, including A Plus Tard – winner in 2022 and runner-up in 2021 – who was ridden on both occasions by Rachael Blackmore and trained by Henry De Bromhead.
Both rank as the most successful among their active peers. Blackmore has run the Gold Cup three times and only failed to place once, when she finished fourth on outside bet Monalee in 2020, while De Bromhead has seen four of his eight entries make the podium.
Among jockeys, only Robbie Power, Bryan Cooper and Nico de Boinville have run three or more times and placed on at least half of those occasions. Like Blackmore, all three have a solitary victory to their name, with Power winning in 2017 aboard Sizing John, Cooper in 2016 on Don Cossack and De Boinville in 2015 on Coneygree.
Among trainers, De Bromhead has the edge over more experienced rivals such as Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. His two entries in 2021 and 2022 – A Plus Tard and Minella Indo – finished first and second on both occasions, with the former trailing the latter two years ago before gaining revenge the following year.
Will we see recent Irish success continue?
De Bromhead’s twin successes maintained a recent run of dominance by Irish-trained horses. Seven of the last 10 winners have come from an Irish stable, compared with three out of 10 in the previous decade.
Similarly, the majority of horses that placed between 2013 and 2022 were schooled across the Irish Sea, whereas British-based thoroughbreds dominated the podium in the 10 years beforehand.
Irish trainers managed to lock out the front three in 2016 and 2021 – a feat last achieved by British trainers in 2011, when Nicky Henderson’s Long Run beat Paul Nicholls’ former winners Denman and Kauto Star to first prize.
How much does form matter?
Cheltenham Gold Cup glory is reserved for the very best that the sport has to offer, with only two of the past 20 victors having failed to win a race in the previous 12 months.
Imperial Commander and Lord Windermere bucked the trend in 2010 and 2014 respectively, although the former was a veteran of nine outings at Cheltenham before winning the big one and the latter had won the Broadway Novices’ Chase on the old course in the previous year.
Looking at this year’s form guide, heavy favourite Galopin Des Champs is coming off a win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, while defending champion A Plus Tard could be undercooked having pulled up at Haydock in his only outing since last year’s victory.
Protektorat – owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – won that race and is tipped to do well, as is Noble Yeats who crossed first in December’s Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.
View the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup odds