Centenary Novices Handicap Chase Betting

In spite of its unfamiliar name, the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase is not a new addition to the annual Cheltenham Festival in March. It was formerly known as the Jewson Novices Handicap Hurdle, a Class A listed National Hunt chase run over two miles and four and a half furlongs. It has been contested since 2005, when the Festival was expanded to its present four-day format, and Jewson was the sponsor throughout its history.

In 2011, however, a 27th race has been added to the Festival schedule—the new two-and-a-half mile “Jewson Novice Chase.” The title sponsor is part of the Meyer group, owned by French conglomerate Saint-Gobain, and ranks as one of the largest chains of British general builders’ merchants, with over 500 branches across the country. Jewson’s decision to sponsor the new race, which will be held on Day Three, caused several changes in this event other than the name change.

First and foremost, the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase will be run on the left-handed turf of the Old Course on opening day, a significant departure from seasons past, when the event took place on Day Three on the New Course. That slot will now be filled by the new Jewson Novice Chase.

The Centenary Novices Handicap Chase is also now restricted to novices rated 0-140, and the total prize fund has been reduced from £80,000 in 2010 to £55,000 in 2011. What has not changed is the race’s value as a showcase handicap for novice chasers aged five years and up.

From the onset, the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase has been a source of excitement at Cheltenham. The inaugural edition was won by seven-year-old Irish-trained King Harald, guided by jockey Mattie Batchelor. So thrilling was the ride that it earned Batchelor top honours—the 2005 Lester Award for Jump Ride of the Year.

In the five runnings since then, no trainer or jockey has been successful twice. What’s more, the favourite has only won the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase once, and that was back in 2006, when Reveillez paid 9/2 by beating trainer Nicky Henderson’s Copsale Lad by a length and a quarter.

The 2008 race was especially exciting. Much-favoured Mr Strachen, the third-place finisher at Newbury’s Totesport.com Novices’ Chase a month earlier, took a spill and gave the field its opportunity. Irish seven-year-old Finger on the Pulse crossed the finish line first, just a neck ahead of Henderson’s runner-up, Barber’s Shop, with Possel and Henderson’s Fleet Street only a little over a length behind.

Oddly enough, Henderson has never managed to bring a winner to the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase, despite having entries every year and a couple of close seconds. Venetia Williams has had no luck here, either. One can only surmise they are both overdue.

Although trends are hard to spot in the half dozen years of the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase, it is clear that Irish and French entries tend to dominate the field. Form is important, too, as evidenced by all six winners coming in first or second their last time out. In fact, such horses have been responsible for the 1-2-3 four times and a 1-2 ending on another occasion. Many handicappers see the Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Novice Chase at Leopardstown in January as an example of a form guide.

In 2010, the Philip Hobbs-trained Copper Bleu raced away with £45,608, beating out 19 other starters in a fierce, end-to-end gallop. In 2011, Willie Mullins’ Quel Esprit headed the ante-post wagering, but Robinson Collonges was being touted as the horse to watch. The latter could deliver a second win here for Paul Nicholls, following up on his 2009 victory with Chapoturgeon.

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