Kicking off the Irish National Hunt each year is the Grade 1 jump race known as the JNwine.com Champion Chase. It has been sponsored at Irelandís Down Royal Racecourse by James Nicholson Wine Merchant since its founding in 1999. Apart from providing an excellent starting point for the season beginning in early November, it also serves as the centerpiece event for a two-day extravaganza known as the Northern Ireland Festival of Racing.
The NI Festival begins on a Friday with a full card of racing, anchored by the Grade 2 WKD Core Hurdle. Open to horses aged five years or older, Saturdayís big JNwine.com meeting covers a distance of 4,828 metres (about three miles) and features 15 fences. It is supported on the day by six other events, including the Grade 2 ladbrokes.com Chase. That means plenty of opportunity for jump race betting within an exciting 48-hour period.
Racing Grows at Down Royal
Located in Ulsterís County of Down, the Down Royal Racecourse is a landmark facility, where the Sport of Kings has been a tradition since the mid-17th century. The Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders was founded by Royal Charter from King James II in 1685 to encourage horse breeding in the region.
The countyís first racecourse was a three-mile horseshoe on the undulating terrain of Downpatrick. In 1750, £100 was donated by King George II for prize money, and ever since then a Royal Plate race has been held at Down Royal, contributed to annually by the Privy Purse.
Extensive modernisation efforts were undertaken at Down Royal throughout the 1990s. They included the completion of a new Grandstand in 1993, with 14 Corporate Boxes, a VIP Hospitality Suite, a Public Bar, and a raised viewing area that overlooks the track and finish post. The Governorís Stand with its exclusive Membership Area and Winning Post Cafť was added in 1998.
These improvements in turn led to opportunities for new fixtures, including the JNwine.com Champion Chase, which started out as a contest over 3 miles and 1 furlong. In 2000, the event was shortened to its present distance, and two years later it received Grade 1 status among National Hunt chases.
Enjoying the Chase
The clockwise run around the track at Down Royal is a mile and 7 Ĺ furlongs, so about a pass and a half is required in the running of the JNwine.com Champion Chase. One horse, Beef or Salmon trained by Michael Hourigan, conquered the distance ahead of the field twice, in 2004 and 2006. As part of the trackís new Hospitality Pavilion completed in June 2009, the Beef or Salmon Suite was created to overlook the finishing straight.
Another star of the Chase here is Paul Nicholls, the iconic trainer who teamed up with jockey Ruby Walsh to produce 2007 winner Taranis and 2008 champion Kauto Star. The latter was the subject of much press and heavy wagering when Nicholls announced the French gelding would run again in 2010 after taking a horrific fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Odds on the favourite fell to 4/7 as the field ended up with just seven entrants, and this time the handicappers were dead on as the champ showed his winning form with Walsh aboard once again.
General admission tickets can be purchased at the turnstiles for the full seven races on Saturday. The cost is £15 per person. Wagering is available trackside on the Tote or at the Bookmakers Ring, both of which are located directly in front of the Grandstands.