Bryony Frost gifts a young racing fan with tickets to the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2019. Here’s the story of that day.
Not to be confused with the village of the same name in Cheshire, Prestbury in Gloucestershire is a residential suburb on the northern outskirts of Cheltenham, in the foothills of Cotswolds. Prestbury Park is known to have existed as long ago as 1136, when it was created by the Bishop of Hereford, and was subsequently used as a medieval deer park and later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as farmland. The Prestbury Park site was employed, temporarily, as a horse racing venue from 1831 onwards, but it was not until the turn of the twentieth century that it became synonymous with Cheltenham Racecourse.
In 1881, Prestbury Park was bought by William Baring Bingham, who initially used it as his stud farm, before consenting to ‘lend’ the land for the revival of steeplechasing, under National Hunt Rules, in 1898. Four years later, Cheltenham Racecourse staged a forerunner of what would become the National Hunt, or Cheltenham, Festival and the rest, as they say, is history. Nowadays, Prestbury Park is home to three courses, namely the original ‘Old’ Course, the ‘New’ Course, which was used for the first time in 1967, and the idiosyncratic Cross Country Course, which was added in 1995.
The Cathcart Challenge Cup was a steeplechase staged, in various guises, at the Cheltenham Festival between 1938 and 2004 but, for most of its existence, was a Grade Two event, run over 2 miles 5 furlongs, on the New Course at Prestbury Park. The Cathcart Challenge Cup was named in honour of Frederick Cathcart, Chairman of the Steeplechase Company (Cheltenham) Limited, incorporated in 1907, Clerk of the Course at Prestbury Park and a hugely influential figure in the evolution of the Cheltenham Festival.
Bizarrely, between 1975 and 1977, the Cathcart Challenge Cup in its traditional form was replaced by the Cathcart Champion Hunters’ Chase, run over 3 miles 1 furlong. Nevertheless, in its original incarnation, the Cathcart Challenge Cup was typically contested by ‘intermediate’ steeplechasers or, in other words, those who lacked the speed for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the stamina for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The last winner of the Cathcart Challenge Cup was Our Armageddon, trained by Richard Guest, in 2004 and the following year the race was replaced by a similar event, the Festival Trophy – now better known as the Ryanair Chase – when the Cheltenham Festival was extended to four days for the first time.