Cross Country Handicap Chase Betting

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Inaugurated in 2005, when a fourth day was added to the Cheltenham Festival, the Cross Country Handicap Chase is one of the highlights of opening day each March. It is a 32-obstacle National Hunt chase that covers three miles and seven furlongs, which weave deliberately around the centre of Prestbury Park, turning left and right to take competitors in a variety of directions over the turf.

Both natural and manmade barriers are encountered along the route, including ditches, hedges, water, banks, and timber rails. One of the major differences separating the unique Cross Country Course from those used for steeplechases at Cheltenham is the incorporation of “living materials” into the building of the fences—growing trees, shrubs, and bushes that must be regularly trimmed for racing.

The Cross Country Handicap Chase is open to horses aged five years and older. It is a weight handicap race that attracts many well experienced entrants. Since the initial running was won by twelve-year-old gelding Spot Thedifference, no mount younger than nine has crossed the finish line ahead of the field, which features 16 starters.

From 2005 to 2007, the sports spread betting firm Sporting Index sponsored not only this race but also two other cross-country races at Cheltenham since they were first introduced in 1995. In 2008, sponsorship of the Cross Country Handicap Chase was assumed by BGC, a leading global broker of wholesale financial markets.

In late 2008, the Grant family became involved. As the owners of Glenfarclas, a Speyside single malt Scotch whisky produced in Ballindalloch, Scotland, they picked up all three of Cheltenham’s cross-country title spots, plus two more—one at Pau in southwest France and the other at Punchestown in Ireland—to create a series of five major Cross Country Steeplechases, culminating in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase.

To encourage international competition for the 2009 running, the Grants offered a bonus in excess of £30,000 to any horse remaining in the same ownership throughout the series, participating in both the French and Irish legs, and winning at the Cheltenham Festival. The result was a repeat win for the 2008 victor, Garde Champetre, trained in Ireland by Enda Bolger and ridden once again by Miss Nina Carberry.

Indeed, Bolger-trained horses won four of the five initial Cross Country Handicap Chase events. He only recently yielded to fellow countryman Michael Hourigan’s, when A New Story with Adrian Heskin aboard beat another Bolger entry, L’Ami, by two and a half lengths in 2010. Only Irish mounts have ever crossed the finish line first in this race.

In 2011, the total prize fund remains steady at £45,000, the same as it was in 2010 when £28,179 went to A New Story. With bonuses included, the race could be worth up to £100,000, more than double the advertised prize fund, which would make this Europe’s most valuable cross-country competition.

It is worth noting that the Hourigan-trained horse was a 25/1 long shot going in, the first winner to pay better than 4/1 in the history of the Cross Country Handicap Chase. Favourites have prevailed on two of six occasions.

The international nature of this race cannot be overstressed. Apart from Ireland, Scotland, England, and France playing a role, so does the United States. American jockey Mike Etherington-Smith, who was responsible for the Three-Day Event cross-country course at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, came up for the configuration of the Cheltenham course. Glenfarclas, by the way, translates from Scottish as “valley of the green grass”—a very apt name for a cross-country chase.

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