It’s been quite a year and so for all of the sacrifices we’ve made as a nation I feel like us racing fans are due a feast of top tier racing action. On that count we’re surely in luck as the start of the Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us. Taking place over four days (Tuesday 16th – Friday 19th March) it’s a prime opportunity to see the cream of the crop of UK racing go ahead to head for some of racing’s highest accolades. And who will win the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year? Al Boum Photo, Champ and A Plus Tard will no doubt be giving it their all. In anticipation of the Festival let’s have a bit of light hearted Cheltenham quiz from Betway with none of than West Ham’s finest taking part.
Becher’s Brook has been a fixture of the Grand National course at Aintree since the inaugural running of the Liverpool Grand Steeplechase, as the Grand National was originally known, in 1836. In fact, at the time of the first ‘official’ running of the Grand National, in 1839, the obstacle – which is jumped twice, as the sixth and twenty-second fence – was known simply as the ‘First Brook’. That was, of course, before Captain Martin Becher famously took refuge in the brook after parting company from his mount, Conrad, and the fence was renamed in his honour.
In its modern incarnation, Becher’s Brook stands an unremarkable 4′ 10″ high – by contrast, the tallest fence on the Grand National course, The Chair, stands 5′ 3″ high – and if followed by a 2′ wide brook, filled with just 1″ of water. Although apparently benign, at least from the takeoff side, Becher’s Brook still features a steep drop, of up to 10″, depending on where jockeys elect to jump the fence, on the landing side. The sudden, unexpected descent can cause horses to come down too steeply and thereby crumple, or pitch forward, on landing. In the past, Becher’s Brook has been likened to ‘jumping off the edge of the world’ and, while the fence has been significantly modified, in the name of safety, in recent years, it remains a formidable obstacle.
The drop on the landing side, on the inside of the track, was previously 2′ or 3′, but was regraded, albeit slightly, in the Fifties, while more significant modifications to Becher’s Brook took place from the late Eighties onwards. The ground on the landing side, leading into the brook, has been levelled off, more than once and the brook, itself, was partially filled in, before being completely remodelled and equipped with rubber mats for the protection of stricken horses.
On June 20, 2013, the four-year-old filly Estimate, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and, in so doing, became the first winner owned by the reigning monarch since the race was established in 1807. The daughter of Monsun was already a Royal Ascot winner, having justified favouritism when easily winning the Group Three Queen’s Vase at the Royal Meeting in 2012, and was sent off favourite once again, on her first attempt in Group One company, in the Gold Cup.
Estimate took the lead with a furlong to run and, although edging left under pressure when strongly challenged by the eventual runner-up, Simenon, in the closing stages, battled on gamely to win by a neck. To add to the drama, Estimate had to survive a stewards’ inquiry and, although the placings remained unaltered, winning jockey Ryan Moore was stood down for two days for causing accidental interference to the placed horses. Of course, the Gold Cup is one of just three races at Royal Ascot offering a perpetual trophy, which is traditionally presented to the winning owner by the Queen; on this occasion, the Queen herself was presented with the trophy by her son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Estimate went on to finish second, beaten just a neck, in the 2014 renewal of the Gold Cup, but was subsequently disqualified after testing positive for morphine, attributed to a contaminated batch of feed, after the race. Nevertheless, she is commemorated by a life-sized statue, cast by Tessa Campbell-Fraser and presented to the Queen by King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, which stands outside Sandringham House, the private country retreat owned by the Royal Family in Norfolk.