Cheltenham Festival News

The 2023 National Hunt Chase: Stats, trends and big-race guide

Sun 1 Jan 2023
 Stattler strikes in last year's race (Photo: Francesca Altoft / focusonracing.com)
Stattler strikes in last year's race (Photo: Francesca Altoft / focusonracing.com)

Here are the facts and stats to note ahead of the day-one finale contested by the amateur riders at the Cheltenham Festival. See what happens live on Racing TV!

What Grade? Grade Two. What Course is the National Hunt Chase staged on? Old Course What Distance? 3 miles 6 furlongs

Prize-money: £92,000

What ages? For 5yo+ Weights & Allowances: 5yo 11st 4lb; 6yo+ 11st 6lb. Allowances, mares 7lb

Sponsor: None

Key statistics and trends

 Le Breuil - the last British-trained winner of the race - prevailed in 2019 (Photo: Focusonarcing)
Le Breuil - the last British-trained winner of the race - prevailed in 2019 (Photo: Focusonarcing)

Note Gordon Elliott runners:

The trainer has four winners from 11 runners in the race, while Run Wild Fred was second last year. Galvin won the race in 2021 while Elliott was serving a six-month ban from the sport; the horse was in his care before transferring to Iain Ferguson.

Beware of favourites:

Chicago Grey, Teaforthree and Back In Focus were all winning favourites from 2011 to 2013 but there hasn't been a winning jolly since - and indeed seven of the last nine have failed to place. Escaria Ten and Run Wild Fred have in recent years, with both unsurprisingly trained by Gordon Elliott.

Proven stamina:

14 of the past 16 winners had previously won at least once over three miles or more.

Don't be put off by older horses:

While this race is less demanding on stamina now than in previous years, experience is still a useful trait.

Horses aged nine or over have a good record, and while winners in the late 90s boost those stats considerably (11-year-old Flimsy Truth in 1997 and nine-year-old Wandering Light in 1998) elder statesmen have still performed with credit in recent years. Rathvinden (2018) and Ravenhill (2020) won at the age of 10, while Midnight Prayer (2014) was nine. Next Destination and Sizing Tennessee have also placed in recent editions.

Conversely, horses aged six have a fairly poor record (two winners from 58 runners) and some very good horses have been beaten in that age bracket despite going close, including Native River and Discorama in recent years. Minella Rocco was as a six-year-old in 2016 yet despite finishing runner-up in the Gold Cup the folllowing year he only won in hunter chases after that, while 2009 winner Tricky Trickster only won once more aftwerwards.

Track knowledge:

Cheltenham experience is certainly useful. Since 2010, 10 of the 13 winners had previously run at the track with the top Irish contenders boasting strong previous Festival form.

Race history

Now in its 163rd year, the National Hunt Chase is the longest race at the Cheltenham Festival. Up until 2020, this was a stamina-sapping four-miler, but the race now takes place over the shorter distance of 3m6f.

The contest is one of three restricted to amateur riders, along with the Kim Muir and the Foxhunter.

The race conditions have changed over time and on the back of a very strong 2016 renewal (Minella Rocco and Native River finishing second and third in the Gold Cup subsequently) the historic contest was upgraded to a Grade Two event in 2017, having previously held Listed status.

Because of the nature of the contest, horses that do well in the National Hunt Chase have often gone on to run well in the Grand National the following month, with recent winners Teaforthree (2012) and Cause Of Causes (2015) both going on to finish in the first three at Aintree. The 2017 winner Tiger Roll went on to land the iconic race at Aintree in 2018 before memorably following up in 2019.

Gordon Elliott (four of the last ten) and Jonjo O’Neill (five wins this century) are two trainers with superb records in the race.

Recent renewals of the National Hunt Chase

2022 - Stattler

Willie Mullins - the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history - had to wait until the lucky last to get off for the mark for this year's meeting with son Patrick doing the steering aboard Stattler in the historic race confined to amateur riders.

The jockey bided his time on the seven-year-old as favourite Run Wild Fred set the pace in the stamina-sapping race and the Mullins snr remarked on Patrick's coolness in the saddle.

The trainer said: "Certainly my nerves were in bits going round the whole time! Patrick got him into a rhythm, got him settled, got him jumping and produced him at the right time.

"I think Stattler is a good jumper and that's why Patrick nominated him early in the season for this race. He was thinking of himself the whole time, which is the right thing to do, it worked out! He probably has enough class win over two and a half miles or three miles."

2021 - Galvin

Galvin (7-2) completed a long-term plan by landing the marathon chase for new trainer Ian Ferguson under jockey Jack Kennedy for owner Ronnie Bartlett.

In mid-field for much of the race, he was smuggled into contention and, after jumping the last in front, ran out a fairly cosy winner by a length a half from Next Destination (3-1) in second with Escaria Ten (11-4F) the same distance behind in third. The front three finished well clear of Snow Leopardess in fourth.

Kennedy said after his day-one double: “It’s a shame the amateurs can’t ride, but I’d be a Cheltenham Festival winner less for it. I’ll take it anyway!”

Galvin had mostly been prepared by Gordon Elliott and his team, but Ian Ferguson assumed the care of this horse shortly before the meeting after Elliott’s well-publicised suspension.

“They’ve done all the hard work. It’s brilliant for Ian Ferguson as well,” said the rider.

2020 - Ravenhill

The ten-year-old Ravenhill (12-1) justified the late switch from the Kim Muir and put experience to very good use to continue the fine record of trainer Gordon Elliott in this race, prevailing under a strong drive from Jamie Codd to secure the brilliant amateur a third victory in this historic contest.

Ravenhill pulled out a fine jump at the last which carried him to the line two-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of the brave Lord Du Mesnil (11-2) in second, with the third Lamanver Pippin a whopping 28 lengths further back in third.

"This race has got a great history and it means a lot that it's here," said Codd. "For amateurs, we only have a few opportunities.

"Cutting the race back by two furlongs isn't the end of the world, we still jump plenty and it only cuts out two fences.

"To win here means a lot - it's Cheltenham and it's the Olympics of our sport. If you don't enjoy riding winners around here then there's something wrong with you."

2019 - Le Breuil

 Le Breuil prevailed in 2019 (Focusonarcing)
Le Breuil prevailed in 2019 (Focusonarcing)

A controversial renewal. Only four finished after an attritional renewal and three jockeys were banned for a total of 37 days.

The stewards ruled Declan Lavery Noel McParlan had “continued in the race when it appeared to be contrary to the horses’s welfare”.

The former finished third on Jerrysback, while McOParlan's mount fell at the final fence when in third.

Le Breuil took the honours under Jamie Codd from Discoroa. Sadly, Ballyward, the favourite, suffered a fatal fall.

2018 - Rathvinden

Testing ground made this a particularly stamina-sapping renewal and by the finish only six of the 16 runners had completed without mishap.

It developed into a fabulous duel between Rathvinden, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by his son Patrick, and Ms Parfois, a mare blessed with bottomless energy.

Rathvinden, sent off at 9-2, tanked through the race and looked like the 150-rated chaser might win easily as he challenged on the bridle, but he had only half a length to spare at the line and was running on fumes by the finish.

The winner needed some medical attention and was unable to return to the winner's enclosure, but was later fine. His jockey picked up a whip ban.

Jury Duty went off the 4-1 favourite but was already a spent force when unseating Jamie Codd two out.

2017 - Tiger Roll

Tiger Roll, winner of the 2014 Triumph Hurdle, provided trainer Gordon Elliott with a treble on the opening day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival by taking his field apart under a positive ride from Lisa O’Neill.

The son of Authorized has never been the most predictable of animals but it was clear from an early stage that this was a going day and he survived a few mistakes to forge clear from three out and make it three wins from five starts at the Gloucestershire venue.

2016 – Minella Rocco

The 2016 edition of the amateur riders’ event was a deep one in terms of quality and in terms of strength of the form, with the overall gallop a searching one.

Minella Rocco was held up well off the strong pace by crack amateur Derek O’Connor before creeping into contention from the fourth last.

In front going to the last, Minella Rocco found plenty up the hill to repel the hugely progressive Native River by a length and a quarter and open his chasing account at the fifth attempt.

It was a performance that marked him down as a genuine Gold Cup candidate for the future and he proved that by finishing second to Sizing John in the blue riband event 12 months later.

2015 – Cause Of Causes

Cause Of Causes had unfinished business at the Cheltenham Festival after looking rather unfortunate not to win the 2014 Kim Muir Chase and he made amends the following season by coming from well off the strong pace under Jamie Codd to win his first race over fences on the biggest stage of all.

He has been a standing dish at the Festival since then, adding the 2016 Kim Muir and the 2017 Cross Country Chase to his CV before going on to produce a career-best effort when second to One For Arthur in the Grand National at Aintree.

2014 – Midnight Prayer

Midnight Prayer provided trainer Alan King with his second National Hunt Chase victory when holding on bravely to defeat the significantly higher-rated Shotgun Paddy by a neck in a bunched-finish (only around four lengths separating first seven home) to the 2014 renewal.

Despite having form on testing ground, drying conditions really suited the son of Midnight Legend (as it does for many of his progeny) and he produced a career-best effort on the day.

2013 – Back In Focus

Willie Mullins won the National Hunt Chase as a jockey but had never as a trainer before Back In Focus, ridden by his son Patrick, put the record straight by pulling the race out of the fire in the final 75 yards, to the relief of his many backers (sent off well-backed 9-4 favourite).

He was a horse who relished testing ground and the drying ground at Cheltenham almost caught him out, indeed he still had six lengths to make up on the leaders heading to the last fence, but he was a horse blessed with huge stamina reserves and they kicked in just in time.

He was a talented chaser, winning a Grade One as a novice, but his racing career ended prematurely (only raced nine times under Rules).

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