It may be the oldest race at the Festival, this year will be the 142nd running, but the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup still generates plenty of interest and is the first race run on Ladies Day as Harry The Viking, Soll & Teaforthree head the betting.
Not only is it the oldest it is also the longest race run at the Festival with an official distance of four miles. It usually provides a bit of a minefield for punters as many of the horses are trying out a gruelling distance of this sort for the very first time and have relative unknown amateur jockeys’ guiding them home.
Despite the part-time jockeys in the saddles, the big stables usually end up landing the contest.
Jonjo O’Neill has landed the race five times, four in the last nine renewals, while fellow Irish trainer Ferdy Murphy has won two on the last six.
Any punters looking for a trend might want to know that seven-year-olds have won the four times in the last six years.
The race also has a rich history of producing some mesmeric rides from the winning ammeter riders and last year’s ride by Derek O’Connor aboard Chicago Grey was certainly one of the best there has ever been.
The Gordon Elliot-trained grey was produced immaculately against the inside rail as the horses came roaring up the final few furlongs of the four mile test. Beshabad looked to have the race sewn up with two to jump but O’Connor’s timing was absolutely perfect and Ireland’s most winning point-to-point ride of all time urged the horse home to the delight of favourite backers.
The 2010 renewal was also memorable as it became the first race in Festival history that saw the first two horses home ridden by female jockeys. Katie Walsh landed the odds aboard Poker De Sivola while her best friend Nina Carberry followed her mate home on Beacuseicouldntsee.
Soll currently leads the ante-post betting markets for Irish trainer Willie Mullins despite only having three races under rules since switching from the Irish point-to-point scene.
The progressive seven-year-old joins a star-studded contingent of Mullins horses that are set for Cheltenham, which includes the likes of Champion Hurdle favourite Hurricane Fly and wonder-mare Quevega. Soll may not have the profile of these champions just yet but certainly has the physical scope and ability to maybe one day reach the top of the chasing tree.
Soll became Mullins 100th winner of the season when running away with a beginners chase at Down Royal on February 1 and the style in which he achieved the success has led his trainer to go on record saying that he believes Soll should be a big player in the National Hunt Chase. Despite being seven-year-old and hugely inexperienced the brute of a chaser has all the hallmarks of a top-class staying chaser, who could even be a Grand National contender in time. His first try at four miles will be at Cheltenham and plenty of punters will be banking on him to make a winning debut at such a gruelling distance.
Another youngster that looks to have a bright future in staying chase handicaps is the Paul Nicholls trained Harry The Viking and he looks set to compete in the four mile event at the Festival.
The part-owned Sir Alex Ferguson owned horse has won twice at Doncaster this season and looks like the trials and tribulations of a Cheltenham chase should suit his burly style of racing.
Other notable entries for the race include Teaforthree, trained by Rebecca Curtis, who beat Restless Harry at Chepstow in December and Temple Lord, for the five time winner of this race, Jonjo O’Neill