National Hunt Chase Betting

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Formally known as the ďNational Hunt Chase Challenge Cup,Ē the National Hunt Chase had been run 140 times as of 2011, which is more than any other race at the annual Cheltenham Festival. Its history dates back to 1860, when it was run at Market Harborough in Leicestershire. The following year the Chase made its first appearance at Cheltenham, and it has been a permanent fixture here since 1911. In fact, this race is historically the one around which the Festival was originally organised.

Covering a distance of four miles, the Class B National Hunt Chase is the longest event held at the Festival each March. It is open only to amateur riders, who must be ranked as Category B in Britain or Category C in Ireland. Eligible horses must be aged five years or older. The race takes place on the left-handed turf of the Old Course and features exactly two dozen fences to be jumped.

Although the National Hunt Chase has never had a formal sponsor, it did have one temporary name change. That came in 2008, when the race was run as the Peter OíSullevan National Hunt Chase in celebration of the legendary BBC horseracing commentatorís 90th birthday.

Until the 1930s, only the Grand National was considered a more important in the jumps race calendar than the National Hunt Chase. Over the years, it has hosted many great champions, including trainers and riders as well as jumpers. Irish National Hunt racehorse trainer and former jockey Jonjo OíNeill has the most winners here with five: Front Line (1995), Rith Dubh (2002), Sudden Shock (2003), Native Emperor (2004), and Butler`s Cabin (2007). Eight different jockeys have posted two wins each, most notably the now successful trainer Willie Mullins, who rode Hazy Dawn to victory in 1982 and Macks Friendly in 1984.

Quite recently, the National Hunt Chase has shown itself to be a good guide to future success, too. For example, 2007 winner Butlerís Cabin went on to win the Irish Grand National, while Hot Weld, the victor here in 2006, achieved a memorable double the following year by claiming the Scottish National and the Sandown Gold Cup within the space of just one week. Also, 2009 winner Tricky Trickster won the Grade Two AON Chase at Newbury in 2010.

Partly because it is the longest race at the Festival, and also due to the general lack of knowledge regarding the non-professional jockeys, the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup has proven to be quite difficult to predict. Only one favourite has triumphed since 1992; that was OíNeillís eight-year-old Native Emperor in 2004 at 5/1. Just one six-year-old has crossed the finish line first since 1989, and there has been no successful five-year-old for more than 30 years.

On the other hand, 25 of the most recent 27 winners finished in the top four their last time out. Whatís more, all three winners since 2008 were in the first two their last time out. But it hasnít paid to back any of Paul Nichollsí entries here. Out of his 13 starters, five of which were ranked in the top half of ante-post wagering, none has won and only one has placed.

In 2011, the total prize fund amounts to £75,000, the same level as it was the previous year when Poker De Sivola was guided home by jockey Katie Walsh for £45,015. They made many a punter happy by winning at 14/1.

Those placing bets on the outcome of the National Hunt Chase should never be shy about taking long odds. Topsham Bay in 1990 and Another Rum in 2005 both returned at 40/1. And Flimsy Truth set a record post-war time of 8:11.09 in 1998 while rated a 33/1 chance.

The many unknowns of the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup are what make it such an invigorating race to watch and wager on. The field has ranged from a high of 37 starters in 1948 to a low of 13 in 1993, but has settled at the safety limit of 20 runners in the new millennium. Look for it as the first event on the card for Day Two of the Cheltenham Festivalóa great way to start a Wednesday in mid-March.

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