Which horse, if any, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2001, depends largely on whether you believe that the Tote Gold Trophy Chase, run over 3 miles at Sandown, was a worthy substitute for the Gold Cup. If you do, you could argue that Marlborough, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, was effectively the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2001.
However, the Tote Gold Trophy Chase, which was run on the penultimate day of the National Hunt season, April 27, was billed only as ‘a substitute Gold Cup, of sorts’ after attracting just seven runners. Admittedly, one of them was First Gold, trained in Chantilly, France by François Doumen and arguably the best steeplechaser in Europe after winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Martell Cup at Aintree. However, First Gold, who was sent off at 8/13 favourite, blundered and unseated his rider before halfway, leaving Marlborough to beat 33/1 outsider Go Ballistic by a short head in a driving finish.
The four ‘championship’ races usually run at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, were described by Paul Hayward in the Guardian as turning up at Sandown ‘like refugees from a terrible disease’; a apt description in light of the postponement, and eventual cancellation, of the Cheltenham Festival due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. In any event, the Tote Gold Trophy Chase was, as later described by the Racing Post, ‘no substitute for the Gold Cup’, so the words ‘NO RACE’ opposite the year 2001 on the historic trophy seem entirely fair and fitting.