The Cheltenham Festival is the main event on the horse racing calendar. Four days of top-class racing at Prestbury Park, hundreds of thousands of racegoers (usually) coming through the turnstiles, and the finest horses in the world going head-to-head in some of the sport’s biggest races.
In the build-up to the 2021 edition, we’re taking a look at the four major races of the week. We’ve already had a gander at 10 of the best Champion Hurdle winners of all time. Now it’s time for us to dive into the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This Grade 1 event is contested around just under two miles and was first run in 1959, won by Quita Que. Since then, there have been some wonderful winners – and here’s some of the very, very best.
The first two-time Champion Chase winner, Fortria led a decade of domination by trainer Tom Dreaper, who oversaw six successes between 1961 and 1970 – a record he now shares with Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls.
Legendary jockey Pat Taaffe saddled five of those winners including Fortria, who simply loved the Cheltenham Festival. After the Champion Chase double, Dreaper tried his luck in the Gold Cup, where he would finish agonisingly second in both 1962 and 1963. An Irish Grand National winner too, there wasn’t much this horse couldn’t do.
The aptly-named Drinny’s Double became the second dual-winner of the race with victory in 1967 and 1968. Frank Nash was the winning jockey, helping the horse get up in the final 100 yards to beat Pawnbroker.
Twelve months later, Drinny’s Double was back in a bid to retain the Champion Chase – but only just. Nash was concussed at Newton Abbot 24 hours prior and owner Paul Mellon said without Frank, the horse wouldn’t run. Health and Safety clearly wasn’t a thing then, and Nash climbed aboard to make it back-to-back wins.
Royalty came to the fore in the Queen Mother Champion Chase during the early 1970s, with Royal Relief becoming the first two-time winner to regain the Champion Chase. All before had won in successive years, but that wasn’t the case for Edward Courage’s 10-year-old.
A winner in 1972, Royal Relief was back for more a year later. But Inkslinger had something to say about that, with the champion having to settle for second. But in 1974, Courage, jockey Bill Smith and Royal Relief were back in the winners’ enclosure. Only two horses have done the same since, and you’ll find them further down the list…
A special mention for Hilly Way, who ended the 1970s with back-to-back wins, the third dual winner of a delightful decade at the Cheltenham Festival. But Skymas is our second Seventies’ star after becoming the oldest winner in the history of the race.
Despite having the race named after her, the Queen Mother never owned a winner of the Champion Chase. The closest she came was with Game Spirit in 1976, but Skymas was too strong – and jockey Mouse Morris did it again a year later on the record-setting 12-year-old.
Three horses dominated between 1983 and 1990, so it’d be rude of us not to mention double-winners Pearlyman and Barnbrook Again, who both won back-to-back Champion Chases between 1987 and 1990.
But our focus of this golden era is on Badsworth Boy, the only horse to have won the Champion Chase on three occasions. First as an eight-year-old in 1983, the horse trained by the Dickinson family would win his second and third by 10 lengths on each occasion, under jockey Robert Earnshaw. Will his achievement ever be matched?
Viking Flagship was a tough-running horse that established himself as one of the best two-milers around during a brilliant career. A gutsy performance up the hill earned him a first Champion Chase win in a 1994 thriller, and he followed it up with another strong performance to repeat the feat.
David Nicholson’s horse tried in vain to make it three, but he finished second in the two years that followed. One more typically brave run came in 1998, finishing fifth, another effort that only enhanced his reputation as one of Cheltenham Festival’s finest.
While Viking Flagship was narrowly denied in the years after his prime, Moscow Flyer missed his chance of a Champion Chase hat-trick during his glory years. The Irish-trained chaser won in 2003 under Barry Geraghty, the first of five wins in the race for the two-time Champion Jockey.
He also won in 2005 as an 11-year-old, only the second horse to do so after Skymas. But in 2004, it was heartbreak for the odds-on favourite when making a mistake four out, handing Azertyuiop an easy victory and preventing Moscow Flyer from a little bit of history.
The history-maker. Master Minded left the field trailing in his wake when winning the 2008 Champion Chase by an incredible 19 lengths. Aged just 5 years old, he became the youngest winner in the race’s history.
At that point, the French-bred star was the highest-rated chaser in the world. Trainer Paul Nicholls labelled the horse the best he’s ever trained, regular jockey Ruby Walsh called the horse ‘an aeroplane’. It’s no surprise that Master Minded repeated the feat in 2009.
Arguably the most popular winner in this race’s history, Sprinter Sacre became the first horse to win the race THREE years after his maiden victory. Nicky Henderson’s horse shot to super-stardom, brushing aside all before him. And a 19-length Champion Chase win in 2013 was one of many career highlights.
With the third highest ever Timeform rating in the modern era – behind Arkle and Flyingbolt – there was never any doubt to his credentials, but heart problems and injuries in the period that followed seemed to have cut his brilliant career short. However, by 2016, he’d fought back to fitness and capped the most magical comeback… sending the Cheltenham Festival fans in raptures.
Those two wins took Nicky Henderson to four Champion Chase titles, but four would become a record-equalling six thanks to the awesome Altior. Nico de Boinville, who was on board for the second of Sprinter Sacre’s successes, was back in the saddle to complete a Cheltenham Festival hat-trick.
Altior’s second Champion Chase win was his 18th successive victory to equal the world-record set by Big Buck’s, a record which he would make his own in his next outing.
Altior is set for one more run at Prestbury Park – he’s 15/2 to win his third Champion Chase and join Badsworth Boy in the history books.
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