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Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 3)
Widely known as the oldest chase in the National Hunt calendar, the Grand Annual is a Grade 3 two mile 110 yard event held on the last day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The handicap sees all declared runners tackle a sequence of 13 fences. The race is officially known as the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, having been renamed in 2005 in honour of Johnny Henderson. He was Nicky Henderson’s father and helped the Jockey Club to form the Racecourse Holdings Trust to purchase and save Cheltenham racecourse from property developers.
Our tip for the 2017 Grand Annual Chase, the Festival closer, is last year’s second placed horse, Dandridge.
He was a revelation over fences last season, with his mark rising from an initial 113 to 142 – a mark off which he finished second in the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase. That run came less than a month after a running on second in last year’s renewal of this race behind 28/1 chance Solar Impulse, staying on all the way to the line following a mistake four out. He hasn’t shown the same form this year, but he hasn’t been given a hard time in his races and ran well off his much lower hurdles mark in a prep run at Leopardstown last month.
Only 4lb above his mark when second in this race last year, he looks primed for another big run under Davy Russell and with a likely strong pace on offer, he’ll be in his element as a hold up horse. He has conditions to suit and looks to be the one to side with in this.
The final race of the entire Cheltenham Festival is the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. This is a two mile 110 yard handicap race that was first run at the festival in the mid 1940s.
Nine different trainers have won the race in the last nine years, with only Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls managing to achieve two wins since 2005. The winning weight of the horses varies too, ranging from 10 stone right up to 11 stone 5 pounds, but historically the average winning weight is between 10 stone 8 pounds and 10 stone 11 pounds.
Finally getting his head in front over fences after being set an easier task, Starchitect made light work of a small field at Ayr in January in a Novices’ Chase and looks an exciting prospect over fences. Fifth in the County Hurdle at the Festival last year, he has run well over fences so far and his current mark of 150 is comparable to his hurdling mark, so he should be capable of much better yet. A race that has eluded David Pipe, he will be hoping that his six-year-old will continue to improve in the lead-up to the Festival and should be considered a main contender for the race. The owners were more than happy with the performance: ‘It was a nice bit of placing by David to find this opportunity as there are some very competitive novice chases about. He is a smart horse and still learning so it was nice to see him get his head in front. He certainly travelled and jumped well“.
Second in the race last year, Dandridge has been slowly finding his feet this season and posted his best effort so far when sixth at Leopardstown on Boxing Day in a seemingly competitive handicap. His mark is slowly reducing despite these good efforts when not hard pressed and he is currently only 4lb higher than the mark he raced off in this race last year. Ground versatile, although his preference is for better (which he’ll get), he is a pure hold up horse which will suit in a strongly run race. He has proved that he handles the course and has Davy Russell to do the steering, so all signs point to a big run and he has to be respected.
Savello’s win in 2014 put an end to owner J P McManus’s firm hold on the race following him securing the title in both 2012 and 2013. Nicky Henderson trained 2012 winner Bellvano as well as also saddling the second and fourth placed horses. Finally, 2011 was the year of the claimer, with amateur jockeys riding all first three finishers.