Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014
Those who are into their racing will wait all year for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, not a handicap but a level weights contest, a true championship event raced over three miles two and a half furlongs at the Festival in March each year and the highlight of the entire week.
Those familiar with racing history and I mean long term, will be familiar with the likes of Golden Miller, Arkle, and Cottage rake in the dim and distant past, but will also remember Desert Orchid, Best Mate, Denman, Kauto Star and Long Run, from more recent renewals, all stars in their own rights and (more importantly), all well known to sports lovers outside of horse racing, crossing the divide from gambling to sport.
Twenty-two fences await the contenders, all of which ask the maximum effort and skill, so not a race for the weak willed or faint hearted, and with the infamous uphill finish, stamina can become an issue for some of the speedier chasers. The winner in 2013 received a decent enough cheque of £284,750 but the kudos and public adulation invariably mean a lot more to most National Hunt owners who can only dream about having a runner, let alone taking first prize.
With the meeting taking place in March, the going can alter significantly year by year, and we have seen it range from heavy, some would say unraceable, to good to firm over the years with rain, snow and sleet all distinct possibilities, though that never deters from a maximum capacity crowd screaming their personal favourites home.
Stars are certainly born here at Prestbury Park, many going on to have their own facebook pages or fan clubs and becoming household names in the process, though this is more a race for the true professional, with fairy tales perhaps best kept for the Grand National the following month from Aintree.
Punters have had a roller coaster ride with six winning favourites since the turn of the century, and with nothing bigger than 8/1 (the ill fated Synchronised in 2012), perhaps class really does shine through on the big occasion, when at least we can all be certain they will be fit as a fiddle for the biggest race of the entire jumping season.
With over £500 million gambled on the week of the Festival you can imagine it takes a lot of money to alter the odds of any runner in the big race, but gambles do take place (however brave that may be in such a competitive event), so keeping an eye on the betting can assist in searching for the winner.
It is never an easy race to predict, but then that is part of the fun of it, watching the best three-mile chasers in the World at the best National Hunt track in the world doing battle for pride, as well as a prize fund.