All you need to know about the National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 11.
When and where? 5.30pm Cheltenham, March 11. Live on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade Two. What Course is the National Hunt Chase staged on? Old Course
What Distance? 4 miles (25 fences). What prize-money? £125,000
What ages? For 5yo+ . Weights & Allowances: 5yo 11st 4lb; 6yo+ 11st 6lb. Allowances, mares 7lb
Key Statistics and Trends:
Fancied contenders do well:
Seven of the past nine winners were sent off 8-1 or shorter but only three favourites have obliged since 1992.
Eleven of the last 14 winners had previously won at least once over three miles or more. Le Breuil was an exception in 2019.
Ten of the last 14 winners were aged seven or eight.
Twelve of the last 14 winners won at least one race over hurdles.
Ten of the last 14 winners had run at least once at Cheltenham, although only three of them had won a race at the venue.
The Jonjo factor:
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill has won the race six times since 1995, including a hat-trick of victories from 2002 to 2004.
Eleven of the last 14 winners had won at least one race that season.
Thirty-one of the last 35 winners finished in the first four on the previous outing. Rathvinden, the winner in 2018, unseated two out when still in touch.
Now in its 160th year, the National Hunt Chase is the longest race at the Cheltenham Festival, a stamina-sapping four-miler, and the contest is one of three restricted to amateur riders, along with the Kim Muir Chase and the Foxhunter.
Its conditions have changed over time and on the back of a very strong 2016 renewal (Minella Rocco and Native River, the first two home, went on to finish second and third respectably in last season’s Gold Cup) the prestigious contest was upgraded to a Grade Two event in 2017, having previously held only 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. And the 2017 winner Tiger Roll went on to land the iconic race at Aintree in 2018.
Gordon Elliott (three of the last eight) and Jonjo O’Neill (five of the last 17) are two trainers with superb records in the race.
Last seven winners:
2019 - Le Breuil
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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