After watching the explosive pace of the Champion Hurdle, our attentions are turned to an altogether different, but equally compelling contest, in the form of The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase.
This long distance handicap chase is a gruelling affair that is set over the cross country course, as the fifth race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The race is one for the stayers, to put it mildly, as the course requires stamina in abundance and rewards horses that stay longer than the proverbial mother in law. Be warned punters, if you are considering betting on the Cross Country Handicap Chase, then make sure your selection is tried and tested over the distance.
History Of The Race
Many races at the Cheltenham Festival, such as The Gold Cup (link) or the Champion Hurdle (link) come with a glittering array of history and an abundance of previous winners. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, as the race has only been in existence for the past seven years.
In-spite of the above, I will do my best to give you a brief background on the history of the Cross Country Handicap Chase.
If you have only recently started to follow jumps racing, then you may not be aware that the Cheltenham Festival used to be contested over just three days. The fourth day was actually added to the racing schedule in 2005 and this is when the first ever Cross Country Handicap Chase was contested at the festival.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase is actually one of three separate cross-country races to be contested at Cheltenham over the course of the year. The other two races take place away from the Cheltenham Festival, in November and December, however the three races are all sponsored by the same company – Glenfarclas.
When the three cross-country races were originally contested at Cheltenham in 2005, the sponsor was the British sports spread betting operator – Sporting Index. Sponsorship changed hands to BGC in 2007 to 2008 and from 2008 onwards, Glenfarclas, a whisky distillery out of interest, have taken the reigns (no pun intended).
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase is an ungraded national hunt jumps race.
In recent years, the race has been run at a start time of 16:00 and takes place on the first Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival.
Age qualification for the race is 5 years old and upward.
The race is run over a distance of 3 miles and 7 furlongs.
In 2011 the total purse was around £45,000 with the winner taking home £28,000.
There are a total of 32 obstacles for entrants to contend with.
The obstacles differ to the standard chasing fences, as they are not man made. Looking more closely you can notice an assortment of living bushes, trees and shrubbery that are pruned by the grounds-men for the event.
Instead of looking only at the seven Cross Country Handicap Chases contested at the Cheltenham Festival, I will also take into account all other cross-country chase races at Cheltenham since the forming of the race series in 2005:
- Ender Bolger has trained the winner of the race at the Cheltenham Festival in 4 out of the 7 renewals.
- 2 favourites have won the race over the past 7 years.
- Irish trained horses have a phenomenal record here, having won all 7 of the races contested at the Cheltenham Festival.
- A British trained horse has never won the race.
- Nina Carberry has been the winning jockey on 3 out of the 7 renewals of the race.
- Top weight has won 2 of the last 7 renewals.
- The race has never been won by a horse younger than 9 years old.
- The average age of the winner over 7 renewals is 10.5.
- The range of official ratings for winners is between 126 – 150.
- 96 British trained horses have run in the 50 most recent cross country chases at Cheltenham and none have won thus far.
- Horse aged 8 years or younger are 1/72 in all cross-country races at Cheltenham.
I think it is fair to say that anybody who enjoys racing loves to take in a long distance cross-country race, though I personally believe that often these events are better to watch than as betting contests.
Although Ender Bolger has dominated the race since its inception, if we are looking at betting on the Cross Country Chase, then we need to consider more than just a trainer who specialises in this sort of event.
What are the common characteristics of previous race winners?
First of all, I think it is important to consider age, with an average winning age of 10.5 years, betting on horses between the ages of 10 and 12 must take preference over younger horses. This is especially applicable to those aged younger than 9, who have a dreadful record in cross-country races, so their older contemporaries must be considered as better options.
Other factors include the atrocious record of British trained horses in cross-country races and the fantastic record of Irish trained horses in these events.
5 of the last 7 winners have come from within the top five in the betting and 5 of the last 7 also won at odds of 4/1 or less.
Whilst we do not have realms of betting statistics and data to fall back on, if you are betting on the Cross Country Handicap Chase, I would personally favour a 10 to 12 year old horse, Irish trained, with proven ability over course and distance.
For the 2012 Cheltenham Festival the leading offers are: Bet365 £200 free bets, BetVictor £25 free bet, and Stan James £150 free bets.