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The Festival Handicap Chase

The Festival Handicap Chase (2:40pm) is the first big handicap of the meeting and is, therefore, a very popular betting heat.

Formerly known as the William Hill Trophy, in 2011 the race was sponsored by the Stewart family, headed by Andy Stewart, the well-known businessman and owner, in support of the Spinal Research charity. In 2012, it was run as the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase for the first time. It is a Class A Grade 3 chase run over three miles and about half a furlong. It is open to horses aged five years old and upwards.

The total prize fund is £90,000 and in 2015 the race will be run on Tuesday, March 10.

Recent Winners

As with all the handicaps run at the Festival, the race often features a large field and is fiercely competitive. Wichita Lineman, in 2009, is the only favourite to justify his position at the head of the market in the last sixteen years and it is crucial to find an improving well handicapped sort.

Stamina is often also a key characteristic to look for in potential winners as another fast gallop ensures that that runners need to get every inch of the three mile trip. Not surprisingly, therefore, the race has become a stepping stone to the Grand National, although only Rough Quest has done the double in recent years.

2016        Un Temps Pour Tout
2015        The Druids Nephew
2014        Holywell
2013 Golden Chieftain
2012 Alfie Sherrin
2011 Bensalem
2010 Chief Dan George
2009 Wichita Lineman
2008 An Accordion
2007 Joes Edge
2006 Dun Doire
2005 Kelami
2004 Fork Lightening
2003 Youlneverwalkalone
2002 Frenchman’s Creek
2000 Marlborough
1999 Betty’s Boy
1998 Unguided Missile
1997 Flyer’s Nap
1996 Maamur
1995 Rough Quest
1994 Antonin

2012 JLT Speciality Handicap Chase Review

The quietly fancied ALFIE SHERRIN landed a cracking renewal, with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained gelding coming home ahead of Fruity O'Rooney (16/1).

The latter horse was ridden prominently throughout until being joined Pentific at the top of the hill, where they were a good few lengths ahead of the field.

The eventual runner-up was still leading over the last and his backers must have been hopeful he'd hang on, but Alfie Sherrin's superior stamina kicked in on the run-in and he simply stormed home under Richie McLernon.

Our Mick (11/1) finished an honourable third with The Package, the gamble of the race into 6/1, staying on into fourth.

2011 Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase Review

BENSALEM made up for his unfortunate Festival exit in 2011 with victory in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase.

The winner was travelling well a year before when coming down at the second last fence but it was his turn in the winner’s enclosure after a thrilling battle with Carole's Legacy from the final fence.

Great Endeavour had led the field for much of the race and was still in with a major chance until taking a fall at the second last which left the principals to fight out the finish which Alan King's stable star edged at the line.

Reve De Sivola and Fair Along filled the frame in third and fourth and an emotional King was on hand to explain: "This has been a great team effort and it's such a thrill that he's come back.

"Last summer he got travel sickness, pneumonia and then pleurisy. One of the vets wanted to put him down, but our vet said he's a special horse and we should continue.

"They took litres of fluid off him and he was a very sick horse."

2010 William Hill Chase Review

Whilst a number of gambles went astray in what is traditionally one of the fiercest betting heats of the week, plenty of people were nonetheless thrilled by CHIEF DAN GEORGE’S victory in the William Hill Chase as it provided rare and deserved successes at this level for trainer Jimmy Moffatt and jockey Paddy Aspell.

Indeed, connections have never lost faith in this ten year old who looked a horse to follow when running up a sequence of five wins out of six as a novice hurdler back in 2007. The one defeat came at the Festival, when, despite being well fancied, he struggled to land a blow behind Wichita Lineman in the Brit Insurance Hurdle and finished a remote eighth. He lay those ghosts firmly to rest here, however, with a career best effort that was memorable, in particular, for its bravery.

Having taken the lead after the second last he had to repeal a string of challengers to hold on to his advantage. In fact, he was actually headed by Ogee at the last, before re-rallying gamely on the run to the line.

Ogee was actually pipped for second as well – by the fast finishing The Package, who was one of the big gambles to go astray.

Having been ridden patiently throughout The Package was taken wide by Timmy Murphy in the latter stages to give him a good sight of his fences, but he seemed tapped for toe when the leaders ran down the hill and perhaps found the trip slightly on the short side and the going slightly too fast. Only seven, he clearly still has a bright future and should land a big staying handicap in due course.

Ogee looked the likely winner at the second last, but he jumped it badly and lost valuable ground, and although he managed to regain the lead going to the final obstacle that mistake came back to haunt him on the climb to the line as he just seemed to run out of gas.

Offshore Account relished the better ground here and ran a blinder to finish fourth. He also ran well for a long way in last season’s National and that is likely to be his target again, although he may not make the cut.

There was a gap back to The Tother One who was a never nearer fifth. He still had plenty to do when a blunder two out finished his chances, but this was a good effort off top weight on ground that was plenty lively enough for him.

The unlucky horse of the race was another well supported animal – Bensalem. He turned up here in preference to taking the novice route and the gamble looked likely to pay off as he was cruising in behind the leaders when crashing out at the penultimate fence. He would surely have been involved in the finish and compensation awaits, provided the handicapper isn’t too harsh on him. He will need to brush up on his jumping though.

2009 William Hill Chase Review

A race that will live long in the memory thanks to a sensational riding performance from Tony McCoy on board the previous Festival winner, WICHITA LINEMAN. Running in snatches, and jumping poorly, throughout, JP McManus’ gelding looked anything but the likely winner three out. However, McCoy refused to give in and the winner stormed up the run in to deny the gallant Maljimar in the shadow of the winning post.

Wichita Lineman became only the second novice to win this fiercely competitive handicap and on this evidence his future surely lies over extreme distances.

Maljimar did everything right, travelling well throughout and looking the likely winner running down the hill for the final time. By the time he turned into the straight, it appeared that the final fence was his only danger, but having been four or five lengths up on the run in he appeared to idle in front and was caught close home. He is ultra consistent and deserves to win another big race.

The fact the Nenuphar Collonges finished third suggests that this turned into something of a stamina test – a fact that was emphasised by how well strung out the field was when the winner crossed the line. Nenuphar Collonges was also closing fast at the finish and could be a threat in this race again next year.

Dear Villez put up a solid performance to finish fourth under a big weight. He was well in contention until losing ground with a poor jump two out.

The Sawyer, in fifth, usually runs well here and he deserves plenty of credit for sticking to his task after being headed after the second last.

Ollie Magern (eighth) also ran creditably as he isn’t getting any younger and has had plenty of tough battles in his time.

Of the rest, Millennium Royal, (seventeenth), probably needs softer ground, whilst Patsy Hall might have had a say in the finish had he not come to grief at the penultimate flight.

2008 William Hill Chase Review

A smaller field than usual for this ultra competitive handicap and one packed full of experienced, top class chasers.

One of those, Ollie Magern, set a fierce early gallop which meant that the field was well strung out by the death and there was an even greater emphasis on stamina than usual.

The effort of eventual winner, AN ACCORDION, was even more impressive, therefore, given that he had been lying just off the pace throughout.

He battled on gamely up the straight after looking likely to be swamped by a series of rivals after jumping the second last and it may be that he idles in front. Clearly he has benefited from the fitting of blinkers, which not only helped him to win here but also at Doncaster in the Skybet Chase on his previous start. The Grand National would seem like an ideal long term target.

New Alco had been freshened up for this race and the break seemed to do the trick as he ran right up to his best after some disappointing early season efforts. He always seems to perform well here and deserves a big prize.

L’Ami (fourth in the 2006 Gold Cup) had slipped to an attractive handicap mark and almost made it pay. However, having been scrubbed along by Tony McCoy from some way out, he was never quite able to reach the leaders and faded in the shadow of the post to just lose out on second place.

Patsy Hall and Abragante had appeared to be the two travelling best of all turning for home. However, neither found much when push came to shove and whilst the former possibly didn’t stay in the rain softened ground (a mistake at the last certainly didn’t aid his cause), the latter seems to be a bit of a thinker and possibly saves plenty for himself.

There was a yawning gap back to the rest, although Ollie Magern ran with credit for a long way under his big weight.

2007 William Hill Chase Review

Ferdy Murphy’s remarkable run with staying chasers at recent Festivals continued in thrilling fashion in the William Hill Trophy as formerly top class novice, JOES EDGE, returned to form with a bang in a dramatic finale to this valuable handicap.

The first three home were separated by less than a neck, with the winner coming from well off the pace to get his head in front on the line. Both the runner up and the third, Juveingeur and Distant Thunder, had looked the likely winner at different times on the run in, but neither could quite resist the powerful late surge of the winner.

Joe Edge’s return to form could probably best be explained by the drying ground, as decent underfoot conditions have always suited this horse and whilst he has been in the doldrums somewhat since his victory in the 2005 Scottish National, a lot of his runs since then have been on unfavourable going. He is also very much a spring horse.

Juveingeur is becoming something of a Cheltenham specialist in general and Festival specialist in particular. He won the Kim Muir in 2005 and was second in this race in 2006. Given that the margin of defeat was so small, his mistake at the last probably cost him dear. He is ultra consistent in these big races, but that may be his downfall as the handicapper is unlikely to relent.

Distant Thunder looked to have stolen the race when kicking clear of the field after being left in front two out by the departure of Heltornic. However, he just couldn’t quite sustain his effort up the punishing Cheltenham hill, although he finished well clear of the fourth. The move to Noel Chance has clearly reinvigorated the horse and compensation surely awaits.

Heltornic was the unlucky horse of the race as she was still travelling well when making a terrible hash of the notorious second last. She has been in such good form recently that it would be hard to say with any confidence that she wouldn’t have been able to hang on to her lead.

New Alco was a much more fancied stablemate of the winner, but could never get in a blow on ground that was probably quicker than he likes.

Very sadly, another of the fancied runners, Little Brick fractured a shoulder when making a bad mistake at the final ditch. He was still very much in contention at the time.

2006 William Hill Chase Review

A typical renewal of this competitive handicap, with a fierce end to end gallop and a well strung out field by the end of the stamina sapping trip.

DUN DOIRE has had another incredible season by any standards, having gone up 50lbs since his first win of the year, and this was an amazing performance. His cause looked hopeless as the field turned to race downhill for the final time. He was over 20 lengths off the pace, with only a couple of horses behind him, and it appeared that his trainer’s concerns over the quickness of the ground were going to be realised.

However, he virtually sprouted wings after the home turn, and having passed thirteen rivals in the process, he flew up the hill to win going away.

The jockeys aboard Juveigneur (second) and Irish Hussar (third) must have thought they had the race between them after the last and they were surely horrified when the winner, with Ruby Walsh on board, left them for dead on the agonising run to the line. Both ran well, however, and Juveigneur, being lightly raced, could still be improving.

Given the fierce gallop throughout the contest, it probably did DUN DOIRE no harm to come from off pace, but very few other horses managed to make up ground from the back to get into a challenging position. Those out with the washing from an early stage included the well supported Moulin Riche (who was let down by his jumping) and Korelo (from the out of form Pipe yard). Both were pulled up.

Novices Model Son (fourth), Bob The Builder (fifth) and Alderburn (seventh) all ran well, although they were all also let down by their jumping to some degree or another. Model Son also looked as though he would be better suited by further.

Veterans Desailly and Seebald both plugged on gamely, and whilst neither ever really threatened to land a blow, they both suggested that they may still have a race or two in them.

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