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Monday, 21 January, 2019

A juvenile chase and a seller – the changing face of the festival

John Randall brings ten bygone races back to life

Tony McCoy and Cyfor Malta win the Cathcart Chase at Cheltenham
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Cathcart Chase (1938-2004)

The 2m5f Cathcart Chase resembled the race that replaced it, the Ryanair Chase, because for much of its history it catered for horses for whom the Champion Chase was too short and the Gold Cup too long. Intermediate champions like The Mighty Mac and Half Free won it, and Inkslinger landed both the Champion Chase and the Cathcart in 1973.

It is a shame there is no longer a race named after the family of Frederick Cathcart, the Cheltenham supremo who created the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle in the 1920s.

The Ryanair Chase, won last year by Un De Sceaux, replaced the Cathcart Chase

Cathcart Champion Hunters' Chase (1975-77)

The regular Cathcart Chase was suspended for three years and its place taken by a 3m1f hunter chase that offered an alternative to the Foxhunter Chase, which was still run at 4m.

Its scheduled first running was abandoned, so its only two winners were Mickley Seabright and Rusty Tears.

United Hunts' Chase (1923-73)

The festival's second hunter chase is remembered for two things. Baulking Green, the first good horse trained by Tim Forster, won it four times in five years (1963-67); and when he unseated his rider in 1966 it became the first race in Britain to be officially won by a female trainer – Jackie Brutton with Snowdra Queen.

Having been demoted in 1974, it is now an ordinary race on Cheltenham's hunter chase card in late April.

Birdlip/George Duller Hurdle (1957-73)

At first this 3m handicap hurdle borrowed the name of the seller discontinued two years before, but was renamed in 1963 after George Duller, the greatest specialist hurdles jockey of all time. Its winners included champion staying hurdlers Harvest Gold (1966) and The Spaniard (1968).

It was relegated to Cheltenham's April meeting in 1974 in order to accommodate the race that is now the Pertemps Final.

National Hunt Juvenile Chase (1892-1958)

Imagine the four-year-olds at the meeting facing 12 fences instead of the eight flights of the Triumph Hurdle. That was what happened in the bizarre NH Juvenile Chase, in which hardly any of the field had run over fences before, and many had not reached their actual fourth birthday or been schooled properly. There was often wholesale carnage with few finishers.

The winners hardly ever amounted to much in the long run, rare exceptions being Gold Cup victor Medoc and Grand National heroes Grakle and E.S.B. Not before time, it was replaced by the Champion Chase in 1959.

Birdlip Selling Hurdle (1952-55)

The festival did not find a permanent home at Cheltenham until 1911 and the last seller at the meeting was run as recently as 1955, when it was won by the Vincent O'Brien-trained Ahaburn.

Spot the Cheltenham winner . . . trick question, Tony McCoy and Lester Piggott have both won at the festival

It gave rise to the classic quiz poser: which Cheltenham Festival winner was ridden by Lester Piggott? Answer: Mull Sack in 1954.

Newent Selling Chase (1924-41)

Another of the sellers that were a staple of the festival, this used to be the curtain-raiser and Ferrans won it at the age of 15 in 1937, equalling the record (which still stands) for the oldest horse ever to win at the meeting. Ferrans was also second in the race twice, including at the age of 17 in 1939.

Coventry Cup Chase (1928-36)

Before 1959 the nearest thing to a 2m championship chase was the Coventry Cup, named after prominent owner the Earl of Coventry.

The first running went to 14-year-old Dudley, the best two-miler of his time, and it was also won by inaugural Champion Hurdle winner Blaris and former Derby third Brienz. But there were not enough good two-milers to make the race competitive; Golden Miller's rival Thomond had a walk-over in 1934.

Amateur Riders' Chase (1920-29)

In its early days the festival was much closer to its amateur roots than it is now, and in 1923 this handicap was won by Dudley under 12st 7lb in the first of his four victories at the meeting.

Dudley won the Grand Annual Chase in 1924 and again in 1925, when it was one of 17 consecutive wins for one of the most remarkable champions in racing history.

Cleeve NH Flat Race (1924-26)

Flat racing at the festival did not start with the inaugural Champion Bumper in 1992 – this short-lived race had its first running on the same card as the inaugural Gold Cup. Former Imperial Cup winner North Waltham was beaten a head into second place in 1925.

If you are interested in this, you should read:
All you need to know about the Cheltenham Festival 2018



Imagine the four-year-olds at the meeting facing 12 fences instead of the eight flights of the Triumph Hurdle
E.W. Terms
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