If being part of the big occasion is what sport is about, Exeter is the place to head on Haldon Gold Cup Day. The great Desert Orchid, the brilliant Viking Flagship, the dazzling Cue Card and the irreplaceable Kauto Star – they’ve all leapt around Exeter’s fences in their quest for glory.
First run as a weight-for-age race in 1982, the Haldon Gold Cup gained listed status in 1985. Fast, furious and spectacular it is run over two-mile one-furlong and with £62,500 in prize money it’s one that trainers make an early season target.
The roll call of winners is impressive, supported by a cast of jockeys who are among the best we have ever seen. Past masters Richard Dunwoody, Peter Scudamore, Jamie Osborne, Norman Williamson, Jim Culloty, Simon Sherwood and Brendon Powell have all booted home the winners while more recently AP McCoy, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Ruby Walsh have been victorious.
It is a race that typically attracts some of the country’s best chasers of their era, like Edredon Bleu, Best Mate, Waterloo Boy and Barnbrook Again.
It is also widely regarded as the first major contest over two miles in the jump racing calendar and considered a stepping-stone to the world’s most prestigious race over this shortest distance a horse can run over fences – the Queen Mother Champion Chase which takes place at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
David Nicholson, or the Duke as he was widely known, saddled Very Promising, Waterloo Boy and the crack two-miler Viking Flagship to win, with the later scoring twice in the Queen Mother Champion Chase – in 1994 and 1995.
The David Elsworth-trained Barnbrook Again won in 1988 and added Queen Mother glory to his haul that same season, and again in 1990.
Henrietta Knight, who has won the Haldon Gold Cup four times with Best Mate (2001), Edredon Bleu (2002 and 2003) and Impek (2006), said: “It is always exciting to win that particular race. You get a tremendous reception and everyone is so welcoming. It’s at the beginning of the season and a prestigious race to win. If you do well, you really look forward to the rest of the season.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled six winners of the race. He said: “It’s one of the early chasing highlights of the season and I try and save a nice horse for it. It’s a very good start for two-mile horses. Kauto Star finished second in the race in 2005 before he went on to win the Tingle Creek, and we’ve won it with Lake Kariba, Flagship Uberalles, Azertyuiop, Tchico Polos and Vibrato Valtat.”
With Exeter’s vibrant crowd renowned for their appreciative cheers on Haldon Gold Cup the roof will be raised in appreciation for the winner of this important race.
The first of seven races comes under starters’ orders at 1pm and the gates open at 11pm. A free bus service to the racecourse is available from Exeter St David’s at 11.15am and the Bus and Coach Station at 11.30am, returning half an hour after the last race.
Tickets are available from £15 if pre-booked online and hospitality packages are available with details at www.exeter-racecourse.co.uk.