IT WAS November 1977. I was only a kid but I vividly remember Peter O’Sullevan’s dulcet tones calling home Bachelor’s Hall in the Mackeson Gold Cup. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this was the start of my love affair with this great race. Now called the Paddy Power Gold Cup, for me this is the real start of the jumps season. And it is a race that has thrown up some great memories down the years…
The race was first run 52 years ago when Arkle’s jockey Pat Taafe steered Fortria to victory. But it soon became a race that certain trainers developed a habit of winning. Fred Rimell won it four times on the bounce, including twice with his Grand National hero Gay Trip. Martin Pipe dominated it in the early noughties and his son David will saddle one of this year’s favourites in Grands Crus.
But it’s not just trainers who specialise in winning the race. Certain horses that are obviously primed to come to hand in November have nailed it more than once. Remember Fred Winter’s Half Free? He won it in 1984, beating Acarine and Voice Of Progress Watch it here.
Then he became the first horse to win it in successive years in 1985 when he gave lumps of weight to Newlife Connection in a memorable finish. Relive the race here
But one of my best memories came when Half Free and Richard Linley went for the hat trick in 1986. He almost did it but was unlucky to come up against the classy Very Promising, given a brilliant ride by Richard Dunwoody. Click here to watch the race. The also-rans included Kathie’s Lad, Durham Edition, Broad heath and the enigmatic but occasionally brilliant Little Bay. Memories!
Dunwoody and trainer David Nicholson won it again with Another Coral in 1991; again Dunwoody was poetry in motion. Another Coral was a real Cheltenham specialist and he was denied a double the following year when finding the gambled-on Tipping Tim too good.
Other luminaries to have powered up the hill include Bradbury Star (twice), the wonderful Cyfor Malta (pictured top) in 1998 and 2002, Exotic Dancer (2006) and the subsequent Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander (2008).
Mackeson ended its 35-year sponsorship in 1995 and from ’96 it became the Murphy’s Gold Cup with Challenger du Luc winning the inaugural running for Martin Pipe. Thomas Pink took over the race in 2000 until Paddy Power began its excellent support in 2003. Now in its 10th year, the Paddy Power is still, to me, the first proper big ’un of the national hunt season and is the highlight of the marvellous Open meeting at Prestbury Park.
So what about this year? Grands Crus seems very short in the market (a bit like Long Run a couple of years ago), there is the enigma that is Hunt Ball and the dark horse (even though he is a grey) Walkon, who could be thrown in on his best form. For Non Stop was impressive at Aintree, while Divers has a great record around Cheltenham and the ground should be perfect for him. He would be my each-way choice at the currently available best price of 20/1. Ferdy Murphy knows what it takes to win the race having won it with L’Antartique in 2007.
With a mainly dry week forecast, the ground looks set to be good or good to soft at worse, so mudlarks need not apply. But whoever powers up the hill, judging by the 44 left in, it is promising to be another classic.
Who do you fancy for the Paddy Power? I’d be interested to hear your opinions. Please leave a comment below…