Jewson Novices Chase Betting

The Cheltenham Festival is no stranger to change. Since its inaugural races were held at Prestbury Park in 1902, this multi-day celebration of jumps racing has seen events and sponsors come and go. It has witnessed wars, severe storms, a 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and debilitating economic downturns.

Still, the Festival not only survives, it thrives, having expanded from three days to four in 2005 and adding six races to make 26 in all. Now, in 2011, the total is being increased once again, this time to 28, as two more events have been added to the schedule, one of which is the new Jewson Novices Chase.

The Jewson name as a title sponsor will not be unfamiliar to those who know Cheltenham history. When the Festival was expanded to its current format, this chain of British general builders’ merchants stepped in as the backer of the Jewson Novices Handicap Hurdle, a Class A listed National Hunt chase run over two miles and four and a half furlongs.

Jewson, which is part of the Meyer group, owned by French conglomerate Saint-Gobain, operates over 500 branches across Great Britain. The decision to withdraw from the handicap hurdle and sponsor the new race, which will be held as the curtain raiser on Day Three of the Festival, caused the Day One event to be renamed the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase.

The brand-new Jewson Novices Chase is a two-and-a-half-mile is a Grade 2 listed weight-for-age handicap chase featuring seventeen fences to be jumped. Open to novice chasers aged five years old and upwards, it will be the very first race of the Festival schedule run on the left-handed turf of the Cheltenham Old Course.

The British Horseracing Authority had long wanted to see a weight-for-age novices’ chase over two and a half miles at the Festival. It will give the leading novice chasers a middle distance opportunity between the two-mile Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase and the three-mile Grade 1 RSA Chase. Also, along with the St. Patrick’s Day Derby, a new charity flat race to be run at the end of Day Three, the new Jewson event will ensure that seven full races are run on each of the Festival.

According to Festival organisers, the addition of the Jewson Novices Chase has been well received by the racing community as “another winning opportunity for jockeys, trainers, owners and stable staff.” Additionally, it gives Cheltenham customers better value and should generate more betting turnover, hence more levy for the racecourse.

Among those trainers welcoming the Jewson Novices Chase was Paul Nolan, who decided to enter noble Prince in the inaugural running rather than have a go at the 2011 Arkle. Nolan commented that the middle-distance seems more appropriate for his horse, saying “the step up in trip will help him avoid a flat spot in a race when the others quicken and he should be able to travel sweeter.” In ante-post wagering, noble Prince was the early favourite at 10/1 odds.

A total prize pool of £90,000 has been established for the inaugural running. Oddly enough, the total prize-money at the 2011 Festival has not increased as a result of this addition. The four championship races retained the same purses as in 2010, but other events saw their levels decrease so that the overall pool of prizes has gone down by £100,000 from the previous season to a total of £3.38 million.

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