Run over one mile, the Royal Hunt Cup is one of the handicap races that takes place during the week of Royal Ascot. The fact that it is a handicap event means that the handicapper gets involved to decide the weights that each of the horses should carry, with the theory being that the better horses carry more weight to slow them down and all horses should be relatively equally matched. Theory and practice are two very different things, however, and it is almost never heard of for all of the horses to be perfectly matched, no matter how good the handicapper is.
From the punters’ point of view, handicaps like the Royal Hunt Cup present a perfect opportunity to try to find errors in the work of the handicapper, placing bets on horses that might be able to out-perform their handicap and get a win on the board. With this race, they’ll have to complete the mile in the fastest time possible with the assigned weight on the back, with the race itself having been taking place since 1843. It has changed its nature a few times over the years, but it remains one of three events run during the week that features a perpetual trophy for the winner.
This flat racing event is for horses aged three and over and is run over one mile. That hasn’t always been the case, though, given the fact that it was run right-handed over seven furlongs and 166 yards when it was introduced in 1843. That race was won by Knight of the Whistle, whilst second place was a triple dead-heat between Bourra Tomacha, Epaulette and Garry Owen, suggesting that the handicapper knew what they were doing back then. It was shortened to seven furlongs and 150 yards in 1930, then extended to its current length 26 years later, remaining at this length ever since. It is also run on a straight course now, rather than right-handed.
At the time of writing, the Royal Hunt Cup is run on the second day of Royal Ascot’s five-day meeting. It is also one of three so-called perpetual trophies, which means that the winner gets to keep it permanently after the victory. That means that it sits alongside the Gold Cup and the Queen’s Vase, making it one of the most sought-after wins of the week given the prestige of the trophy. The fact that it is open to horses aged three and over means that they can come back and take on the course again in the future, although Master Vote is the only one with two wins to date.
Those wins came in 1947 and 1948, showing that it isn’t an easy thing to do given no one else has managed it to date. The same isn’t true when it comes to the race’s leading jockeys, however. Charles Wood won it four times between 1875 and 1887, which is the same number of victories achieved by Lester Piggott from 1963 to 1976. James Jewitt, meanwhile, is the event’s most successful trainer. He notched up five wins between 1882 and 1897, with none of them overlapping with the wins managed by Charles Wood at the same sort of time.
About The Race
Between 2012 and 2023, the race took place 12 times. Of those twelve races, the winner was four-years-old eight times, which gives you a sense of the likely age of the winner. Interestingly, none of the winners were the favourites for the race, proving that you don’t always need to go along with exactly what the bookmakers are saying when it comes to picking your selection. Similarly, eight winners had previously taken part in races at Ascot, suggesting knowledge of the course, whilst three of them actually won at a race at the home of the Royal meeting.
When it comes to the race after this one, only one of the 12 winners we’ve looked at managed to get a win in their next race. Two of them took part in the Golden Mile Handicap at Goodwood, but neither of them won it. Across the remained of the flat racing season, 11 of the 12 runners took place in at least one more race, whilst two of them got at least one more win under their belt. More interestingly, five of the 12 placed in at least one other race before the season came to a close. It is common for horses that have run in handicaps at the likes of Newmarket and York to run in this race.
That sense of not betting on the favourite is backed up by the knowledge that only one horse, 2009’s Forgotten Voice, has won the Royal Hunt Cup as the favourite. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been some well-backed winners, with the likes of GM Hopkins and Dark Vision both fitting into that category, but they haven’t been the favourite. Indeed, there have been some winners with decent prices if you like horses with long odds. When Invisible Man won in 2010, for example, he did so at odds of 28/1, whilst Zhui Feng was 25/1 when winning seven years later.
As with any race that has been taking place since the mid-1800s, there are a few interesting bits of trivia to think about when it comes to the Royal Hunt Cup. Here is our favourite:
Take A Look At The Going
If you want to have a sense of how this race might transpire, make sure to keep an eye on the Going. In 2010, the event was completed in the fasted time to date, with Invisible Man being ridden home in 1:37.16 by Frankie Dettorri.
Compare and contrast that with the fact that Pat Eddery won the 1993 renewal on the back of Imperial Ballet with a time of 1:47.40 and you can see how important the state of the course is. It isn’t even a modern versus less modern thing either, given the fact that the 2016 race was won by Portage in 1:43.01.
First run over seven furlongs and 166 yards in 1843, the Royal Hunt Cup take place over one mile nowadays. It is for horses aged three and over, with Master Vote being the only one to have won it more than once at the time of writing. It takes a little over a minute and a half for the best horses to make it home, depending on the Going. Held on the second day of the Royal Ascot meeting, the race was won three times apiece by Lester Piggott and Charles Wood; albeit it in different generations. James Jewitt is the race’s most successful trainer, taking home five wins.
Alongside the Gold Cup and the Queen’s Vase, the Royal Hunt Cup is one of just three races held during the week of Royal Ascot that has a perpetual trophy attached. That means that the connections of the winner is able to keep the trophy, adding a degree of prestige to proceedings and making it an appealing one to win. The fact that it is a handicap event means that the official handicapper is involved in deciding the weight that each horse should carry. As a result, it is possible for horses to out-perform their assigned weight, which might explain why long-odds winners sometimes enjoy success.