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5:30pm Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m½f

While Henry De Bromhead's Some Plan and Foxtail Hill hold appeal, I picked out THEINVAL as one of the best handicappers to back leading into the Festival and I’m not about to abandon my ante-post selection.

Horses often return to the Grand Annual 12 months after featuring in the race and register improved performances. Five of the first seven runners to pass the post last year all featured in the 2016 renewal, with only fourth-placed Dandridge failing to improve on the runner-up finish he recorded the previous year.

Theinval had every chance jumping the last, but he hung slightly left during the run in and had to settle for third. He then claimed second in a Grade Three at Aintree, and twice featured at Ayr’s season-ending Festival, finishing as the runner-up to Two Taffs and Cloudy Dream respectively.

Things didn’t go to plan for Theinval during the first half of this season, but Nicky Henderson knows his charge comes alive in the Spring and has resigned him to the side-lines since New Years’ Day. He will go to post in Friday’s final race with the same 141 mark as last year and could even carry three pounds less on his back, if the top-rated entrants remain in the running.

Theinval’s odds have plummeted in the last few weeks, as punters have cottoned onto his chances. I’m not usually one for backing favourites in handicaps, but you can still find each-way value with some bookmakers and I think he’s the ideal candidate to claim victory in the final race of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (5:15pm) is a Class A Grade 3 handicap chase run over two miles and about half a furlong. It is open to horses aged five years old and upwards. The total prize fund for 2017 is £90,000 and the race will be run on Friday, March 17.

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Grand Annual Chase Facts

Grand Annual Chase Winners and Results

Fancied horses have a good record in the Grand Annual Chase, with nine of the last thirteen renewals being won by horses who started at 8/1 or shorter. The record of novices in the race is also notable.

Despite not being the most glamorous event run at the Festival, the race has thrown up some classy winners, who have gone on to achieve bigger and better things. Edredon Bleu and Pearlyman, for example, followed their triumphs in this race with successes later on in their careers in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The name of the race was extended in 2006 to commemorate the life of Johnny Henderson, so how appropriate it was for his son Nicky to train the winner of the 2006 race.

The Grand Annual Chase takes on greater significance as the new final race of the Festival - or "getting out stakes" - replacing the County Hurdle that has been switched to earlier in the day.

2017        Rock the World 10/1
2016        Solar Impulse
2015        Next Sensation
2014        Savello
2013 Alderwood
2012 Bellvano
2011 Oiseau de Nuit
2010 Pigeon Island
2009 Oh Crick
2008 Tiger Cry
2007 Andreas
2006 Greenhope
2005 Fota Island
2004 St Pirran
2003 Palarshan
2002 Fadoudal Du Cochet
2000 Samakaan
1999 Space Trucker
1998 Edredon Bleu
1997 Uncle Ernie
1996 Kibreet
1995 Sound Reveille
1994 Snitton Lane

2012 Grand Annual Review

There were emotional scenes after the 2012 running with trainer Nicky Henderson winning the contest named in his late father's honour for the first time since Greenhope in 2006 with the eight-year-old Bellvano. Indeed, Henderson was landing a 1-2 in the race with the runner-up Tanks For That (9/1) also representing him.

As always, the race was run at a furious pace and at the top of the hill the Alan King-trained Kumbeshwar was just ahead of a tightly packed field. He relinquished the lead approaching the last, however, and the eventual runner-up looked certain to score, with his lesser-fancied stablemate coming from the clouds to win by two and a quarter lengths.

Henderson so nearly made it a 1-2-3 as his Anquetta came home in fourth, and he'll no doubt be firing plenty of arrows at the 2013 version. Ironically (for punters), his Kid Cassidy was heavily-backed beforehand but could never get in a blow, finishing 12th of the 21 runners.

2011 Grand Annual Review

Colin Tizzard's Oiseau De Nuit won the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup as the curtain came down on a sensational 2012 Cheltenham Festival.

The 40-1 chance finished sensationally under 7lbs claimer Steven Clements to win by three-and-a-quarter lengths.  Askthemaster (50-1) was second, Leo's Lucky Star (20-1) came home third and De Boitron (8-1) was fourth.

2010 Grand Annual Review

The final race of the 2010 Festival capped an amazing day for the Twiston-Davis family as PIGEON ISLAND came with a wet sail to claim the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual in near darkness at Prestbury Park.

The worsening conditions definitely had a big say in the finish here as a number of horses were going noticeably better than the winner turning for home. But it turned into a war of attrition after the last and the stamina of both the runner up, French Opera, and the third, Consigliere, gave way in the final climb to the line.

Interestingly, no horse has carried more than 10st 11lbs to victory in the last ten renewals of this contest and the winner continued that trend here.

Nicky Henderson would have loved to win this race (named in honour of his father) again and French Opera so nearly pulled it off. The late change in the going conditions just sapped his stamina, but he remains a fine prospect.

Consigliere was cruising two out, but it wasnt necessarily his stamina that gave out as he is just one of those horses that finds little off the bridle.

The fourth and fifth, Cornus and Tartak, both ran well under big weights. Both are very consistent and should win more races.

Safari Journey ran a cracker in sixth as he, more than most, would have been inconvenienced by the change in going.

The rest came home at long intervals with the fast deteriorating conditions clearly taking their toll.

2009 Grand Annual Review

A frustrating Festival for Alan King, finally bore some fruit as OH CRICK claimed the Festival finale.

The race turned into a fascinating duel from the second last as the winner and Moon Over Miami went at it hammer and tongs all the way up the straight.

Oh Crick looked the likely winner going to the last, but a slight mistake there enabled the runner up to have another go at him and it was only in the final strides that he eventually got on top.

The winner is only six and so could turn into a very smart two miler next season. He also has a likeable attitude.

This was also the runner up’s best performance for some time. He has always been talented, but he has appeared quirky too and is not one to trust. However, the return to two miles on decent ground seemed to bring out the best in him.

The front two pulled nicely clear of French Opera in third. Considering this was only his third start over fences, he put up a decent performance and should improve with more experience. He is likely to be aimed at this race again next year, given that it is named in honour of Nicky Henderson’s father.

Tramantano was fourth, while the form of last year’s renewal held up well with the winner of that contest Tiger Cry in fifth, and the third, Calatagan sixth this time around.

The well backed Poquelin could only finish eighth. However, he ran better than his finishing position suggests as he stayed on well up the hill after making a number of serious errors throughout the contest. He has a big handicap in him if he can brush up his jumping and something like the Paddy Power Gold Cup is likely to be on his agenda.

Stablemate Pasco, was ninth and probably prefers a flatter track.

Beggars Cap was still travelling well when coming to grief three out. He is a decent horse when he gets his preferred conditions.

2008 Grand Annual Chase Review

Another competitive renewal of this two mile handicap, with a number of the runners having previous with both this race and with each other.

Indeed, the eventual winner, TIGER CRY, was runner up to Greenhope in the 2006 renewal, whilst today’s fourth, Andreas, had amongst his victims when he won in 2007 both Calatagan (third here) and Hasty Prince (sixth).

For Tiger Cry, this was his first win for two and a half years, but he was nicely backed on the strength of a promising run in the valuable Pierse Hurdle on his last start and a decent effort over fences at Ascot the time before that.

He travelled well throughout, relishing better ground than he tends to encounter in Ireland, and always looked the likely winner after taking up the running two out.

My Petra stayed on strongly for second and is probably the one to take out of the race, being younger and less exposed than many of those who finished around her. A step up in trip could be on the cards.

Calatagan also finished well having been settled well off the pace early on. This was a huge improvement on his effort in the race last year, but his recent consistency is doing him no favours in the eyes of the handicapper.

Andreas was on a mark 11lbs higher than when winning last year and so this was arguably an even better effort. As usual, he travelled supremely well throughout the race, but was outstayed in the end as his big weight took its toll. On genuinely decent ground, it would surely be worth having a crack at the Champion Chase with him next year as he is still only eight and he saves his best for this time of year.

Almaydan led the field running down hill and did well to hold on for fifth after being headed two out, whilst the ground probably wasn’t lively enough for last year’s runner up, Hasty Prince.

Enlightenment also likes to hear his hoofs rattle and probably needs a shaper, flatter tack to be at his best. However, he ran a better race here than his eventual finishing position suggests.

2007 Grand Annual Chase Review

ANDREAS may have fluffed his lines in this race last year – he fell early on when a heavily backed favourite – but he made amends in the best way possible by coming back a year later to claim the prize.

This looked another fiercely competitive renewal of one of the best two mile handicaps in the jump racing calendar, but the field was well strung out in the end, even though a dozen horses were still in contention on the downhill run to the third last.

Ironically, Andreas hasn’t been in as good form this year as he was last, but today was his big day and rather than empty out when coming off the bridle has he has done often in the past, he actually outstayed the runner up Hasty Prince on the run in after clouting the second last. He deserved this big race victory.

Hasty Prince was a top class hurdler at his best and this was his finest hour so far over fences. He seems to relish these competitive handicaps and the fast pace they invariably produce.

Ground Ball, in the same ownership as Hasty Prince, has been a great servant to connections and is now a standing dish here having run at each of the last four Festivals. He probably needs a bit further now, as he couldn’t match the pace of the front two.

Ursis was fourth. He has had a marvellous season and has really thrived since switching to Steve Gollings’ yard. By contrast, the hot favourite, Saintsaire, was a big disappointment. He never jumped well enough to keep tabs on the leaders.

Last year’s winner, Greenhope, was again in front for a long way but in the end he wasn’t able to cope with the rise in weights that his success in 2006 inevitably led to.

2006 Grand Annual Chase Review

It may not be the highest profile race at the Festival, but it always attracts a high class field and this year it also provided possibly the most emotional result of the week as GREENHOPE, trained by Nicky Henderson, won the race named in honour of his late father, Johnny.

Given the trainer’s understandable desire to win the race, he saddled four of the 23 runners, all of whom seemed to have some sort of chance. However, it was 20-1 shot Greenhope who came out on top having led for most of the way and finding plenty under pressure when challenged.

He’d been laid out for the race and a recent spin over hurdles had obviously put him spot on for his big target. A former high class handicap hurdler, this was clearly a career best effort over fences.

The ultra consistent Tiger Cry finished second. The Irish raider has run well here in the past and clearly relishes the fast pace of these ultra competitive handicap chases.

Madison Du Berlais was third, finally providing his beleaguered stable with something to cheer about at the end of a terrible week. Considering how poorly most of Martin Pipe’s horses have run at the Festival, this was a fine effort and there is every reason to think there could be more to come from this promising five year old.

Similar comments apply to Davenport Democrat in fifth, as the Willie Mullins horses have also been badly out of form.

Two of the best backed horses in the race failed to make any impression. Andreas sadly fell at the fourth, whilst Green Tango could never get into contention in a contest where it paid to race up with the pace. Although he stayed on well at the death, his jumping had never been good enough to allow him to get any closer to the leaders.

Bleu Superbe and Sharp Rigging were both still in with a chance when falling.

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