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150th 'birthday' of man who transformed Cheltenham; FESTIVAL FEVER.

Byline: John Randall

THIS month will see the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Cathcart, the man who did more than anyone else to make Cheltenham the headquarters of jump racing.

Cathcart was the most influential racecourse official of the 20th century, and guided the fortunes of Cheltenham as clerk of the course and chairman during the most momentous period of change in its history.

Frederick Henry Cathcart was born in Camden Town, north London, on March 17, 1859. On his birth certificate the occupation of his father, Rolleston, was given as 'comedian'.

In 1895, through the influence of an uncle, Cathcart joined Messrs Pratt & Co. He eventually became the senior partner of that firm, which was in charge of managing several racecourses including Cheltenham, Gatwick, Alexandra Park, Folkestone and Plumpton.

As the Gatwick chairman, he was in charge of the three substitute Grand Nationals run there during World War I. In 1919, the Bloodstock Breeders' Review noted: "In the racing world of today there is no man imbued with a greater spirit of enterprise than Mr Cathcart. If he could have his way the Turf would quickly undergo developments of a striking and beneficial character."

In effect, Cathcart followed his father into show business, for he was an impresario whose chief production was the big meeting at Cheltenham, where he was the clerk of the course and the founding chairman of the Steeplechase Company.

The Cheltenham Festival was originally the National Hunt meeting - the meeting that staged the National Hunt Chase, the four-miler for amateur riders. For many years second only to the Grand National in prestige, the race was first run in 1859 at Market Harborough, and regularly changed venue. Held at Cheltenham in 1904 and 1905, it returned there in 1911 and has remained there ever since.

Under Cathcart's direction, the meeting grew significantly in importance. It was expanded from two days to three in 1923, and the Gold Cup (1924) and the Champion Hurdle (1927) were inaugurated before his retirement.

Jump racing has had no finer servant than Frederick Cathcart, who died in 1934, aged 74. His Sporting Life obituary stated: "He was indefatigable in his efforts to increase the popularity and public appeal of the race meetings with which he was associated . . . Much of the success of the 'chasing at Cheltenham was due to Mr Cathcart's energy and enterprise."

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Frederick Cathcart: driving force behind Cheltenham
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 8, 2009
Words:403
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