The Foxhunter, run immediately after the Gold Cup, and over exactly the same course and distance is actually the older of the two races. It was first run in 1904, and predates the Gold Cup by fully 20 years. Often referred to as the “amateur’s Gold Cup”, a soubriquet which refers strictly to the jockeys only, many top quality horses have won the race, including Grittar in 1981, the year before he went on to Grand National glory.
The race is one in which women jockeys have done well, with five of them riding the winner, starting with the very first Festival female winner, Caroline Beesley, on Eliogarty in 1983.
There have been just two sponsors of the race. Insurance company Sun Alliance and London supporting it in 1972 and 1973. Christie’s picked it up six years later, and their support over 34 years must be one of the longest running partnerships in the sport. The auctioneers offered no reason for their decision to pull out, simply saying that they were not going to renew their sponsorship, but that they had found Cheltenham an excellent partner to work with.
Speaking for the racecourse, Peter McNeile, director of sponsorship said, “It has been the joy to have the support of such a well known and successful brand for so long at the Festival. Christie’s has been an excellent partner for this race, but we will now begin the process of talking to other interested parties and recruiting a new sponsor for a prize that has been in existence since 1904.”
If the requirements are a business that most people will know the name of, but only a very few will use, there are two that were started up in the same year as the Foxhunter was first run. Mr Rolls and Mr Royce set up their car making business that year. An alternative is that upmarket supermarket of the (mainly) south of England, Waitrose. Perhaps Cheltenham should approach one of these.
It the Waitrose Foxhunter Chase doesn’t sound quite right, let’s acknowledge they do have the Royal Warrant to supply groceries, wines and spirits to the Queen and Prince Charles, and did for the Queen Mum in her time. Perhaps they aren’t so far removed from racing after all.