The £250,000 Gold Cup is viewed by many to be the most prestigious race of the annual Royal Ascot meeting in June. It takes place as the highlight of Day Three, which is colloquially though not officially referred to as Ladies’ Day, owing to the parade of designer creations and millinery masterpieces that it attracts. Another important race on this day is the Hampton Court Stakes, which has been renamed the Tercentenary Stakes to commemorate 300 years of racing here.
The Group 1 Gold Cup has been accurately described as “a battle of stamina and determination” over two miles and four furlongs on the right-handed turf of the Ascot Racecourse. Along with the two-mile-and-two-furlong Doncaster Cup and the two-mile Goodwood Cup, it forms a series known as the British Stayer’s Triple crown—the highest aspiration of all “stayers,” those horses specialising in long distances. In the history of flat racing, this Triple crown has been won only six times, with Double Trigger being the most recent in 1995.
The very first running of the Gold Cup was in 1807, when Master Jacky took the honors and 100 guineas in prize money. The race was viewed by both King George III and Queen Charlotte. The first repeat winner was Aspiration, who crossed the finish line first in 1816 and then came back in 1819 to do it again. Bizarre became the first back-to-back victor in 1824-25.
Other notable champions of the Gold Cup in the 19th century include the 1866 victor Gladiateur (who had won the British Triple Crown the year prior), the 1875 winner Doncaster, and the undefeated St. Simon, who won here in 1884 and has been rated fourth among all the top Thoroughbreds in British racing history. Also, the 1893 British Triple Crown winner Isinglass won his last major race here in 1895.
Today, the Gold Cup is open to Thoroughbreds aged four years old and above. The youngest runners carry nine stone even, while those aged five and up bear an additional two pounds. There are allowances of three pounds for fillies and mares and ten pounds for four-year-olds from the Southern Hemisphere.
Although numerous horses have managed the double in the past two centuries, and the Irish chestnut Sagaro accomplished the hat-trick in 1975~1977, only one has ever put together a string of four victories. That was the Irish bay stallion Yeats, who won here without pause from 2006 to 2009 and was subsequently vote the European Champion Stayer in each of those four years.
Aiden O’Brien was Yeats’s trainer, but he still needs one more victory in the Gold Cup to join the elite rank of six who have brought five winners to the starting post. They include Aspiration’s trainer William Chifney, whose handful of victories came between 1816 and 1829, along with John Scott (1834~1854), Gladiateur’s trainer Tom Jennings, Sr. (1866~ 1890), John Porter (1868~1902) and Alec Taylor, Jr. (1896~1918). Most recently, Henry Cecil added five winners of his own, including two doubles: Le Moss in 1979-80, Ardross in 1981-82, and Paean with a solo victory in 1987.
The Gold Cup’s top jockey over the years has no peer. Lester Piggott won this race an astonishing eleven times between his first triumph on Zarathustra in 1957 and his double on Ardross. He was the rider for all three of Sagaro’s wins and the first one by Le Moss. His other winning mounts were Gladness in 1958, Pandofell in 1961, Twilight Alley in 1963 and Fighting Charlie in 1965.
Currently, Johnny Murtagh is the jockey to beat. He has had five wins since 1999, when he triumphed on Enzeli. In 2001-02 he gained a double win on Royal Rebel, and he was in the saddle for the last two of Yeats’s four victories. Challenging Murtagh are Michael Kinane, Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon with two wins each since 1998.
Favourites have done quite well here over the years, but don’t rule out the occasional long shot. Royal Rebel’s second win paid 16/1 compared to 8/1 for his first, and the most recent winner, Rite of Passage, rewarded backers at odds of 20/1 in 2010.