The Cheltenham Festival knows how to go out in style, closing the event with the Grand Annual Chase (also known as the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase).
The Grand Annual Chase is a Grade 3 National Hunt handicap chase for horses aged five and over. It’s one of the most popular and all-inclusive races of the Cheltenham Festival.
Run over a shorter distance than most of the other races, it gives the less-experienced handicappers a chance to shine. It’s held on the venue’s New Course at a distance of 2 miles and half a furlong (3,319 metres), with a total of 14 fences.
The purse stands at £100,000 in all, of which £51,255 is awarded to the winner.
As well as being Cheltenham Festival’s oldest race, The Grand Annual Chase is the oldest race of all current National Hunt contests. It first took place back in 1834 at Andoversford, near Cheltenham. In those days it was a longer race (3 miles) and was run over open country.
The race was discontinued in the 1860s and was not reinstated until the turn of the century. At that point it was shifted from venue to venue (Melton Mowbray, Leicester and Warwick, among others) until it finally came full circle and settled back in Cheltenham in 1913.
In the 1960s, when the future looked bleak for the Cheltenham Racecourse and property developers were sniffing around, banker and renowned racehorse owner Johnny Henderson (1920-2003) saved the day.
He rounded up a group of associates from the Jockey Club to form the Racecourse Holdings Trust, which raised enough money (£240,000) to buy the racecourse and secure its future.
In fitting tribute to Johnny Henderson after his death in 2003, the Grand Annual Chase was dedicated to his memory, with his name incorporated into its title in 2005. Aptly, his son – the horse trainer Nicky Henderson – won the Grand Annual Chase in 2006.
The most successful Grand Annual Chase jockey is Graham Bradley, who won the race four times: 1986 (Pearlyman), 1992 (My Young Man), 1995 (Sound Reveille) and 1997 (Uncle Ernie).
Fulke Walwyn remains the most successful trainer, with three wins to his name. He won the race in 1946 (Loyal King), 1953 (Rose & Crown) and 1964 (Richard of Bordeaux).
Race trends and statistics
- Only three winning horses since 1980 have been aged 10 or over
- Horses carrying under 11st tend to fare better, with just four 11st+ winners since 1995
- Two favourites have won since 2002
The trends are not hard to spot for this race. Most of the recent winners had previously won on the same course, and novices have a good track record.
However, no horse has won twice here since the 1970s, meaning that jockeys are keen to establish names for themselves and equal if not beat that record. Favourites are not always a sure-thing here, so the field is wide open for a surprise finish: the winners’ odds have ranged all the way up to 40/1 in recent years (Oiseau de Nuit, 2011).