The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the most prestigious steeplechase in Europe and has been run, in its current guise, at the Cheltenham Festival, in mid-March, most years since 1924. Indeed, in the better part of a century since the inaugural running, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been out-and-out abandoned just five times in its history.

The Cheltenham Festival was cancelled, in its entirety, in 1943 and 1944, when Cheltenham Racecourse was used as a military training facility during World War II, and again in 2001, when the fixture was initially postponed until April, but called off completely when the racecourse subsequently fell within a foot-and-mouth exclusion zone. In 1931, the Cheltenham Gold Cup fell victim to a bitterly cold March and it was a similar story in 1937, when a mild, but very wet, winter heralded another cold, wintry March, with frequent snowfall.

Snow, once again, threatened to intervene in 1940, but the Cheltenham Gold Cup was not abandoned, but rather rescheduled six days later. The 1978 renewal was also postponed because of snow and, for the first time since its inception, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was run in April instead of March. Since then, the only day of the Cheltenham Festival lost to bad weather was the second day in 2008, which was cancelled due to high winds; the races due to be run on that day were rescheduled for the Thursday and Friday and the running of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was unaffected.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, run over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards, and 22 notoriously stiff fences, at Prestbury Park in Gloucestershire, is the highlight of the Cheltenham Festival, staged annually in March. The race was first staged, in its current guise, in 1924 and, while it is not the most valuable steeplechase run in Britain – that distinction belongs, by a fair margin, to the Grand National – it is, in fact, the most valuable conditions, or non-handicap, steeplechase. In 2019, total prize money for the Cheltenham Gold Cup was £625,000, with the winner receiving £351,688.

The Gold Cup, run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 210 yards, and no obstacles at all, at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, is similarly the highlight of Royal Ascot week, staged annually in June. The Gold Cup is, far and away, the older of the two races, having been staged for the first time, in the presence of King George III – he of ‘madness’ fame – in 1807. Nowadays, the race is the most prestigious event in Britain and, arguably, in the world, for horses that specialise in racing over long distances, otherwise known as ‘stayers’. Prestigious though it may be, in 2018, total prize money for the Gold Cup was ‘just’ £500,000, with the winning receiving £283,550; when compared with the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Gold Cup is actually one race that gives lie to the often-repeated claim that National Hunt racing is the ‘poor relation’ of Flat racing.

The flamboyant grey Desert Orchid is best remembered for his career as a steeplechaser, during which he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 1989, and the King George VI Chase four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990. However, ‘Dessie’ also enjoyed a brilliant hurdling career and first caught public attention with his meteoric rise through the ranks in his novice season over the small obstacles in 1983/84.

In that season, Desert Orchid won six of his eight starts, including the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January and the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February. He made his debut at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Hurdle, for which, despite still being a novice, he was sent at just 7/1; he failed to make much of an impact, though, fading from the second-last flight of hurdles to finish down the field behind Dawn Run.

The 1984/85 season was more of a struggle for Desert Orchid and he won just once, in the Listed Oteley Hurdle, now the Contenders Hurdle, at Sandown in January. Nevertheless, he took his place in Champion Hurdle once again but, having chased the frenetic pace set by Northern Trial, weakened quickly as the field approached the top of the hill and was pulled up before three out in the race eventually won by See You Then. So, while Desert Orchid did twice contest the Champion Hurdle, he never did win it.