What is the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

Strictly speaking, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the trophy presented to the winning owner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, a Grade One, weight-for-age steeplechase run over three miles and two-and-a-half furlongs at the Cheltenham Festival in March each year. However, the term ‘Cheltenham Gold Cup’ is typically used to refer to the iconic steeplechase known, in some quarters, as the ‘Blue Riband’ of steeplechasing.

Inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has increased in value and prestige down the years. Indeed, with total prize money of £625,000 it is, nowadays, the most valuable steeplechase of its kind in and, along with the Grand National, one of the two most celebrated steeplechases in the British National Hunt calendar.

It would be fair to say that the roll of honour for the Cheltenham Gold Cup reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of staying chasing talent since the early twentieth century. In fact, according to Timeform, of the ten highest-rated steeplechasers since the early Sixties, no fewer than six – namely, in order of preference, Arkle, Mill House, Kauto Star, Desert Orchid, Burrough Hill Lad and Long Run – won the Cheltenham Gold Cup at least once. Arkle, the highest-rated steeplechaser of all time, according to Timeform, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, in 1964, 1965 and 1966; on the third occasion, he beat five rivals by thirty lengths and upwards at odds of 1/10, thereby becoming the shortest-priced winner in the history of the race.

What is a Group race?

In European Flat racing, Group races, also known as Pattern races, are elite races, intended to be contested by elite horses. As such, horses compete off level weights, although weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances are granted to three-year-olds against older horses and fillies and mares against colts and geldings, respectively.

Group races are overseen by the European Pattern Committee, which classifies races, in order of

by importance, as Group One, Group Two and Group Three races. The European Pattern Committee regularly reviews the status of all Group races; if the three-year average of the official ratings of the first four finishers is above, or below, a certain threshold, the status of the race is upgraded, or downgraded, from one season to the next,

Group One races, of which 32 are run, annually, in Britain, included seasonal highlights, such as the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger – which, collectively, constitute the so-called ‘Triple Crown’ – to name but three. Group Two and Group Three races are less prestigious than Group One races, but still include important world-class and domestic races, such as the Dante Stakes and the Greenham Stakes. To make these races more competitive, horses that have won at the same, or higher, level within a certain period of time incur weight penalties; a Group One or Group Two winner dropping down to Group Three level, for example, might incur a penalty of, say, 5lb, depending on the exact conditions of the race in question.

What is meant by the terms ‘odds-on’ and ‘outsider’?

Unsurprising, ‘odds-on’ is the opposite of ‘odds-against’. In either case, odds represent the implied probability, or percentage chance, of a particular outcome occurring. For example, if you place a bet at 2/1, or ‘two to one against’, you have a 33.33% chance of winning and a 66.67% chance of losing. In other words, that particular outcome is twice as likely not to happen as happen, which is reflected by the fact that you win £2 for each £1 staked, if your bet is successful. However, if you place a bet at 1/2, or ‘two to one on’, the reverse is true, so you win just £1 for each £2 staked, if your bet is successful. Put simply, any selection that has an implied winning chance of better than 50%, which is reflected by odds shorter than 1/1, or even money, is odds-on. An odds-on selection is deemed more likely to win than lose, sometimes significantly so, such that the profit on a winning bet is always less than the stake.

By contrast, an ‘outsider’ is about as far removed as possible from odds-on betting but, beyond that, a clear, unambiguous and objective definition of exactly what constitutes an outsider is difficult. Also known as a ‘longshot’, an outsider has, at least on paper, little chance of winning a race and is, consequently offered at relatively long odds when compared with some or all of its rivals. However, ‘relatively’ is the operative word here, because there is no threshold beyond which a horse becomes an outsider. In a three-runner race, for example, the outsider of the trio might be offered at odds of, say, 9/4, while in a forty-runner race, such as the Grand National, outsiders at 66/1, 100/1 or even longer odds are commonplace.

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