Cheltenham Festival Records | Legends
Who Are The Legends of The Cheltenham Festival?
The leading lights from across the National Hunt scene descend upon Cheltenham every March to battle it out for fame and fortune. It is the most prestigious jumps racing meeting in the world and the level of competition is absolutely ferocious in every single race. Securing victory at the Cheltenham Festival represents the pinnacle of many careers. However, some superstars display consistent brilliance at the famous meeting, cementing their legendary status by racking up multiple triumphs. These the top five horses, trainers and jockeys in the history of the Cheltenham Festival:
Top Five Cheltenham Festival Horses
Many consider Arkle to be the greatest horse of all time and many of his most legendary triumphs came at Cheltenham. His first victory came in the Grade 1 Broadway Chase – now known as the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase – back in 1963, when he won by 20 lengths. The following year he went for the biggest prize of all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and came up against a formidable foe in Mill House, the defending champion. Arkle won by five lengths.
The following year, Arkle went off as the 3/10 favourite to win the Gold Cup, and ended up beating Mill House by 20 lengths. In the 1966 renewal he became the shortest priced starter in the race’s long and storied history, with odds of just 1/10. He won the race by 30 lengths. He was immortalised when festival organisers created the Arkle Chase in 1969, replacing the Cotswold Chase. It is a Grade 1 contest and it remains one of the most prestigious races at the Cheltenham Festival.
The iconic Golden Miller won the Cheltenham Gold Cup five years in a row during his stellar career. His first triumph came in 1932 and he was still going strong when he romped to victory in 1936. He also became the only horse to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National when he seized both crowns in 1934. His exploits led to him being crowned Steeplechaser of the Century.
Golden Miller was trained by Old Etonian Basil Briscoe at Longstowe, near Cambridge. He retired in 1939, with a record of 29 wins from 52 races, but during the first half of his career he was untouchable. A statue of Golden Miller overlooks the Cheltenham Course, and he remains one of the most famous names in National Hunt racing.
Altior announced himself as a force to be reckoned with when he delivered a stylish performance to land the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 festival. He stepped up to the Arkle Chase the following year and blew his rivals away with another devastating performance. Altior then won the Queen Mother Champion Chase – the leading minimum-distance chase in the National Hunt calendar – in 2018. Last year, he defended it with ease after starting as the 4/11 favourite.
He then extended his winning streak to a record-breaking 19 races when he clinched the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Aintree the following month. However, he is now 10 years old and trainer Nicky Henderson took the bold decision to step him up in trip for the current National Hunt season. It did not go to plan, as he was well beaten by 2m 5f specialist Cyrname in the Christie Chase. Altior has since dropped back to his preferred distance of 2 miles, and he returned to winning ways in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February.
He will now bid to win the Champion Chase for the third year in a row in March, but he is no longer the heavy favourite in the horse racing odds. Defi Du Seuil is the current favourite, while Chacun Pour Soi is also in contention to dethrone Altior, so it will be fascinating to see how he responds.
Quevega became the first six-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival when she landed the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle in 2014. She began her career in France in 2007, before moving to Ireland to join Willie Mullins’ stable. Quevega made her Cheltenham bow in the newly established David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle – now known as the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – in 2009. She was up against Ascot Hurdle winner Chomba Womba and many more impressive challengers, but she made short work of them all and won by 14 lengths.
She successfully defended her crown the following year, fending off the challenge of Carole’s Legacy to win by four lengths. Quevega continued to excel and she landed the World Series Hurdle in 2010 before seizing a hat-trick of OLBG Mares’ Hurdle victories in 2011. She would go on to vanquish all her rivals in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to make it six in a row and surpass Golden Miller as the most successful horse in Cheltenham Festival history.
The Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar and it always provides a tense battle. Five horses share the record for the most victories in this race: Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq. Yet Sir Ken stands out for winning it in 1952, 1953 and 1954, and then going on to win the Cotswold Chase – now the Arkle – in 1956.
Istabraq also secured four Cheltenham Festival wins, but his other triumph came in the slightly less prestigious Royal & Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle. Only Quevega, Arkle, Sir Ken, Istabraq, Big Buck’s, Altior and Willie Wumpkins have won more than three times at the festival during its long history. Sir Ken is one of the greatest champions of all time.
Top Five Cheltenham Festival Trainers
The Closutton maestro overtook Nicky Henderson as the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history when he secured his 61st winner in 2018. His first came all the way back in 1995, when Tourist Attraction defied odds of 25/1 to seize the Triumph Hurdle. Mullins was named leading trainer at the festival for the first time in 2011, when he secured four winners. He led the way again in 2013, 2014, and in 2015 he set a record by saddling eight winners.
Mullins was named leading trainer again in 2016, and he finally usurped Henderson in 2018 when odds-on favourite Laurina breezed to victory. Last year, Mullins left rival Gordon Elliott in the shade as he was named top festival trainer once more. Klassical Dream won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Duc Des Genievres took the Arkle, Eglantine Du Seuil won the Tattersalls Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and then Al Boum Photo won the big one, earning Mullins his first ever Gold Cup and taking his tally to 65.
He has trained a huge array of Cheltenham legends, including Hurricane Fly, Faugheen, Annie Power, Nichols Canyon, Quevega, Florida Pearl, Vautour, Douvan, Un De Sceaux and many more, while he holds the record for the most victories in several races.
Henderson won the Champion Hurdle three years in a row between 1985 and 1987 courtesy of fine performances from the legendary See You Then. He has been saddling Cheltenham winners ever since. Over the years, he has clinched six Champions Hurdles, four Queen Mother Champion Chases and two Cheltenham Gold Cups, a haul that no trainer can match. His most famous runner is arguably Sprinter Sacre, but Bobs Worth, Remittance Man, Long Run and Punjabi were all superstars too.
Most recently his successes have come from Altior, Might Bite and dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur d’Air. In 2019, Henderson also secured four victories via Beware The Bear, William Henry, Altior and Pentland Hills. That took his overall tally to 64, just one behind Mullins, and he could reclaim his crown in 2020. He has several impressive runners descending upon Cheltenham this year, and many occupy prominent places in the horse racing spread betting.
Nicholls is another Cheltenham legend after being named leading trainer in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. He is third on the list of the most successful trainers in the history of the festival, with 45 wins. He would turn up at Cheltenham with an outrageously impressive group of runners, including the likes of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s, Master Minded and See More Business, and he would frequently clean up.
His star has waned somewhat over the past decade, with Mullins, Elliott and Henderson coming to the fore. However, Nicholls picked up two victories in 2019, with Topofthegame and Frodon both landing big races. He should have another strong hand this year and it will be interesting to see if he can recapture the old magic.
Wrexham native Walwyn shot to national acclaim when he won the Grand National about Reynoldstown as an amateur jockey in 1936. He was forced to retire from riding after fracturing his skull in a fall at Ludlow three years later, so he bought stables in Lambourn and set about establishing himself as Britain’s leading trainer. Throughout his career, Walwyn trained the winners of four Cheltenham Gold Cups and two Champion Hurdles.
In total, he saddled 40 winners at the Cheltenham Festival between 1946 and 1986. That stood as a record until Henderson surpassed it in 2012. However, there were far fewer races during Walwyn’s day, so his achievement is towering. Mill House was one of his most famous runners. He is now commemorated each year at the Cheltenham Festival in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
Pipe was also an amateur jockey before he turned his attention to training in 1974. He made a slow start to life in his new profession, but he was finally crowned champion trainer in 1989 and then went on to win the accolade 15 times as his career went from strength to strength. On eight occasions, he trained more than 200 winners in a season, and he also had success in flat racing.
He saved his greatest moments for the Cheltenham Festival, where he saddled an impressive 34 winners. Granville Again won the Champion Hurdle in 1993 and Make A Stand won it in 1997. The Gold Cup eluded him – a second placed finish for Rushing Wild in 1993 was the closest he came – but he was very consistent at the festival and he was the leading trainer in 1997, 1998 and 2002. He remains active as a racehorse owner, and his son David has now taken over his training operations.
Top Five Cheltenham Festival Jockeys
Walsh is easily the most successful jockey in Cheltenham Festival history and that is largely thanks to a fruitful partnership with Mullins. He rode a total of 59 winners at the famous festival, including high-profile triumphs aboard Big Buck’s, Hurricane Fly, Kauto Star, Annie Power, Douvan, Vautour and Faugheen. His first triumph came in the 1998 Champion Bumper, and he won the Arkle for the first time in 2003.
Walsh was then named the leading jockey at Cheltenham in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 during a remarkably successful spell. He landed two Cheltenham Gold Cups aboard Kauto Star, four Champion Hurdles, three Champion Chases, five Stayers’ Hurdles, six Supreme Novices’ Hurdles, three Arkle Challenge Trophies and four Ryanair Chases, among many other successes. Walsh retired in May 2019 after riding Kemboy to victory in the Punchestown Cup. That 213rd Grade 1 win proved a fitting way to bring down the curtain on a magnificent career.
Geraghty is the second most successful jockey of all time at the Cheltenham Festival. Since Walsh’s retirement, he is also the leading active jockey, but he still has some way to go before overhauling the great man. Yet Geraghty’s record is beyond reproach: five Champion Chase victories, three Champion Hurdles and two Gold Cups are just some of the highlights.
His first Cheltenham winner did not come until 2002, and he has been exceptionally prolific since then. Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth, Moscow Flyer, Kicking King and Punjabi are just some of the star names he has had the pleasure of riding. He has teamed up with Henderson to great effect after becoming the stable’s first jockey in the aftermath of Mick Fitzgerald’s 2008 retirement.
Check out Barry Geraghty’s racing insights here at Sporting Index.
Sir Tony McCoy
McCoy loomed large over the National Hunt scene from the moment he recorded his first winner at the age of 17 in 1992. Some 21 years later he rode his 4,000th winner when Mountain Tunes soared to victory at Towcester. McCoy was first named Champion Jockey in 1995/96 and he successfully defended the title every year until he finally retired in 2015. During that sensational career, he won every big race imaginable, notably ending his Grand National hoodoo aboard Don’t Push It in 2010.
Yet riders are generally judged on their successes at Cheltenham and – while not as fruitful as Walsh and Geraghty – he pulled off plenty of fine displays at Prestbury Park. He won the Gold Cup in 1997 and then again 15 years later when Synchronised crossed the line. He also won the Champion Hurdle three times and the Champion Chase once, plus three Ryanair Chases and three Arkle Challenge Trophies. One of his greatest milestones came in 2006, when he surpassed the total of 4,191 winners that his mentor, Martin Pipe, had achieved as a licensed trainer, and in 2010 he was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
The Cork native spent 15 years as a jockey and his greatest successes were born out of his status as Henderson’s first jockey. His biggest win came when See More Business vanquished all of his rivals in the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He was also named the leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 1999 and 2000, and he rode a total of 14 winners at the festival over the years.
Fitzgerald’s career was sadly cut short in 2008 after he fell at the second fence of the Grand National and suffered a serious spinal injury. He was told that a return would lead to the threat of paralysation, so he was never able to capitalise on Henderson’s great successes in 2009 and 2010. However, he remains one of the most successful jumps jockeys of all time, and he continues to offer tips on the big races at Cheltenham and other big meetings.
Johnson secured his first Cheltenham success when he rode Anzum to victory in the 1999 Stayers’ Hurdle. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Looks Like Trouble and the 2002 Champion Chase aboard Flagship Uberalles. He had two Cheltenham Festival wins that year, which was enough to land him the leading jockey honour. Johnson completed the set when he landed the Champion Hurdle in 2003, becoming one of a minority of riders to win all four championship races at Cheltenham.
In 2016, following McCoy’s retirement, Johnson finally won the Champion Jockey title for the first time. In 2018, he won the Gold Cup again aboard Colin Tizzard’s Native River. Johnson is still going strong, but in January he suffered a broken arm. That has scuppered his chances of winning the Champion Jockey title for a fifth year in a row, and it could well keep him out of the Cheltenham Festival too.