William Hill Trophy Handicap Betting

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Following the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, bookmaker william hill dropped their sponsorship of the Class A Grade 3 National Hunt chase that had been known as the william hill Trophy Handicap since 1998. As a result, the 2011 event became known as the Festival Handicap Chase. It is the first time the race has gone without a sponsor since the early 1980s, when it was known as the National Hunt Handicap Chase. From 1981 to 1996, the Ritz Club was its backer, followed by Astec Buzz Shop in 1997.

No matter what name it goes by, the Festival Handicap Chase has long been seen as a test of potential entrants for the Grand National. Horses that have won both events include trainer Vincent O’Brien’s Royal Tan (1952/1954), Fulke Walwyn’s Team Spirit (1963/1964), Michael Oliver’s gelding West Tip (1985/1986), and David Barons’ eleven-year-old Seagram (1991/1991). The most recent champion was Rough Quest (1995/1996), trained by Terry Casey.

The Festival Handicap Chase is open to horses aged five years or older. It covers three miles and half a furlong on the left-handed turf of Cheltenham’s Old Course, with a total of nineteen fences to be negotiated en route to the finish line. Run as the first big handicap race of the Festival, the Chase takes place on Cheltenham’s opening day every March and occupies the third spot on the program.

The lack of a title sponsor has meant a slight reduction in the total prize fund in 2011 to £75,000 from the previous year’s high of £80,000. The 2010 winner—ten-year-old Chief Dan George, trained by James Moffatt and ridden by Paddy Aspell—took home £45,608 and made punters quite happy by coming in at 33/1.

Finishing first at long odds is not at all unusual in the Festival Handicap Chase, which explains why betting is often heavy on this race. Only two favourites have won since 1977, the most recent being 2009’s Wichita Lineman at 5/1. For five straight years starting in 1995, no horse came in a less than 10/1 odds, including the 1997 winner Flyer’s Nap at 20/1 and 1999’s Betty’s Boy at 25/1. In 2007, Joes Edge paid 50/1.

On the other hand, even though it is a fiercely competitive handicap, horses at the top end of the betting have done quite well in the Festival Handicap Chase in past decade. Eight of the last ten winners have triumphed at single figure odds.

Factors to keep an eye on in the Festival Handicap Chase include the handicap weights, prior race records, and the ages of the horses. Of the last 11 winners, every one of them carried less than 11 stone, six of the last eight won on their previous outing, and eight out of the most recent ten were under ten years old. In fact, since 1997, of the 34 starters aged eleven years or older, not a single one has crossed the finish line first.

Because the race often features a large field and is fiercely competitive, stamina is often a key characteristic to look for in potential winners. That includes the jockeys as well as their mounts. Quite a few riders have won twice here, but no one since Robert Thornton in 2004-2005. Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell, Tom Scudamore, Tony McCoy, and Paddy Aspell have all claimed one win apiece since the, and each of them will surely be looking to make it a pair.

The field for 2011 consists of 16 entries, with Sunnyhillboy and Midnight Chase the early choices, followed by Great Endeavour and Junior. Chief Dan George will be striving to repeat, with the 2010 favourite, The Package, expected to challenge hard as well.

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