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Considered the home of national hunt racing, Cheltenham Racecourse, located in the beautiful surroundings of the Gloucestershire countryside, comes alive in March when thousands descend on one of the finest British Racecourses, to witness the pinnacle of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Festival. The annual affair attracts top jockeys and trainers from all four corners of the globe, competing in what is by far the most competitive four days of jump racing in Britain, culminating with the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day.
The first races to take place at Cheltenham were over the flat in 1815, at Nottingham Hill, and later in 1818 at Cleeve Hill. From 1834 jump racing took place in neighboring Andoversford before moving to its current location in 1898. It was in 1924 that the Gold Cup was introduced, with Red Splash taking the honours. With over £1,000,000 a day of prize money on offer over four days of racing, it's no surprise the Cheltenham festival is the highlight of the steeplechase season.
May 1st, 2009, was maybe a sad day for a lot of punters, but no doubt, several jockeys were breathing a sigh of relief. With an incredible fifty-nine Cheltenham Festival winners to his name, Irish jockey Ruby Walsh called time on a career spanning over twenty-four years. Walsh kicked off his remarkable number of wins in 1998, winning the Champion Bumper, a national hunt flat race, on Alexander Banquet.
Four years down the line, he won the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase with his mount Blowing Wind in 2002. The following year saw his most significant success so far at the four-day meeting when he took the honors in the Arkle Challenge Chase with his mount Azertyuiop. He rode the same horse the following year, winning in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, one of three winners that year.
The Irish jockey never failed to have less than two winners at the meeting up to his retirement, winning an incredible seven races in 2009, including his second Gold Cup win on Kauto Star, a race he previously won in 2007 on the same horse. Ruby signed off his festival career by winning the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Klassical Dream in 2019. Walsh was also a two-time winner of the English Grand National.
It's unlikely anyone will surpass the fifty-nine winners of Ruby Walsh anytime soon. Still, fellow Irish jockey Barry Geraghty and his forty-three winners are a testament to the skills of this now-retired jump jockey. He got off the mark at the festival in 2002 by winning the Arkle Chase on the Jessica Harrington trained horse, Moscow Flyer, and my word was he off to a flyer. The following year saw Geraghty ride five winners at national hunts top meeting, including another victory on Moscow Flyer, this time in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
His first taste of victory in the Gold Cup came about in 2005, on the Tom Taaffe trained horse, Kicking King. It was eight years later when he tasted success again in Cheltenham's' main event, riding Bobs Worth for Nicky Henderson to victory. With five Queen Mother Champion Chase winners, five Champion Hurdle victories and numerous other multiple winners at Cheltenham, it's fair to say Barry Geraghty was someone who felt at home at the Gloucestershire course.
Tony McCoy makes it a hat-trick of Irish jockeys in the top three most successful festival riders, notching up thirty winners in his career, retiring in 2015. Like his fellow Irishmen, he managed two Gold Cup victories, the first coming in 1997 on Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance. The Jonjo O'Neil trained horse Synchronised, gave McCoy his second Gold Cup winner in 2012.
With a hat trick of wins in five of the festivals races, including the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase, it's safe to say; Tony McCoy enjoyed racing at the home of national hunt.
There's nothing quite like British horse racing. With its varying climate, one-minute horses are galloping on the firm ground on a warm summers day, the next trudging through three inches of mud in a downpour. Racecourses that are enveloped in some of the world's most beautiful countryside and attended by top-class horses and trainers as well as champion jockeys and Cheltenham legends, like McCoy, Geraghty, and Walsh. There's nothing quite like it.