National Hunt Chase

Nowadays, the National Hunt Chase is a Grade 2 novices’ chase, run over 3 miles, 5 furlongs and 201 yards on the Old Course at Cheltenham and restricted to amateur riders. Currently scheduled as the final race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the National Hunt Chase has been a fixture of the March showpiece since its inception in 1911, notwithstanding various changes to the race conditions down the years.

Indeed, the most recent changes followed a troubling renewal in 2019, when only four of the eighteen starters completed the course, the favourite, Ballyward, was fatally injured and three jockeys were suspended for riding offences. Immediately afterwards, the very existence of the National Hunt Chase was called into question but, following a review, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) opted instead to shorten the race distance, from its previous 3 miles, 7 furlongs and 170 yards, thereby reducing the number of fences to be jumped to 23 from 25, and introduce more stringent qualifying conditions for both horses and jockeys. The revised conditions, which are due for review after the 2022 running, resulted in the smallest field in over a century in 2020 and, on soft going, only six of the fourteen runners completed the course, although the majority of those who failed to do so were pulled up.

Regardless of what the future holds for the National Hunt Chase, experienced Irish amateur Jamie Codd has won the last two renewals, on Le Breuil in 2019 and Ravenhill in 2020, repectively, to become outright leading jockey since World War II with three wins in total. Similarly, Jonjo O’Neill, who trains at nearby Jackdaws Castle, remains the leading trainer in the recent history of the National Hunt Chase, with six winners between 1995 and 2016.