Grand Annual Chase Betting

Of all the jumps races held at the Cheltenham Festival each March—now 28 of them in total—the very oldest and among the best loved is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup. This event first took place in 1834 on a three-mile open country course at Andoversford, not far from the current Cheltenham grounds.

Although the chase was discontinued in the 1860s, organisers were prevailed upon to renew it in the early 1900s, when the race took place at several different venues, such as Melton Mowbray, Leicester and Warwick. Then, in 1913, the Grand Annual Chase came home to Cheltenham to stay.

Since 2009, the storied event has been conducted as the very last contest on the fourth and final day, drawing the curtain down on the annual Festival. Covering two miles and half a furlong, with fourteen fences to be cleared on the left-handed turf of the New Course, it is a Class A Grade 3 National Hunt handicap chase open to any horse aged five years or older.

Of course, the naming of the race is of special interest. Banker and racehorse owner John Ronald Henderson (1920~2003) was a legend of the turf. Nowadays, he is often referred to as the “saviour of Cheltenham,” and with good reason. In the 1960s, when the racecourse had fallen into disrepair and property developers were seeking to close it, Henderson gathered fellow members of the Jockey Club and created the Racecourse Holdings Trust. Together, they raised £240,000 to buy the venue outright, saving it from the wrecking ball and ensuring its future for the sole purpose of horseracing.

Two years after Henderson’s death, when the Festival was expanded from three days to four, a decision was taken to dedicate this race in his honour. When the event became known as the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup in 2005, the namesake’s son, trainer Nicky Henderson, put three horses in the running. They finished respectably in third, fourth and sixth. Then, in 2006, the son returned with four entries, and this time he succeeded, as eight-year-old Greenhope came in first by two lengths.

Over the years, many great Cheltenham champions have been featured at this event. The 1986 winner, Pearlyman, went on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice in 1987-88. Even more prolific was the 1998 victor, Edredon Bleu, capturing four straight renewals of the Peterborough Chase from 1998 to 2001, taking the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2000, and claiming the King George VI Chase in 2003.

Just two horses have managed a double at the Grand Annual Chase—Top Twenty did it in 1958~59 and Dulwich pulled it off in 1974 and 1976. The latter might have had a hat-trick, but the 1975 edition was abandoned due to waterlogging of the track.

Among jockeys, Graham Bradley is the event’s only four-time winner. He did it aboard Pearlyman in 1986, My Young Man in 1992, Sound Reveille in 1995, and Uncle Ernie in 1997. The trainer with the most Grand Annual Chase victories was Fulke Walwyn (1910~1991) with three. He made it to the winner’s enclosure with Loyal King (1946), Rose & crown (1953), and Richard of Bordeaux (1964).

Trend watchers have plenty to study in handicapping the Grand Annual Chase. Fancied horses have done well here. Favourites have grabbed four of the last dozen renewals, and fully nine of the last thirteen runnings were won by horses starting at 8/1 or shorter. In fact, 30 of the past 36 winners started at no greater than 10/1.

Of the most recent 14 winners, twelve had previously won at distances of two miles and two furlongs or greater, and six of the last nine were previous course winners. Runners under ten years old have accounted for all but half a dozen of the last 48 first- and second-place finishers. Indeed, novices have compiled a notable record in this event and should continue to offer excellent value.

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