National Hunt Challenge Cup Date is March, 10, 2020
Type: Grade 2 National Hunt Steeplechase (3 miles 6 furlongs)
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The Cheltenham National Hunt Challenge Cup, known to some simply as the National Hunt Chase, is one of the oldest races on the calendar having been around since way back in 1860.
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National Hunt Challenge Cup 2020 Preview & Tips
Preview By Frank Monkhouse
Former professional boxer who is now a content writer specialising in sports and betting. Has worked for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Coral and Betfair covering all manner of sports, from boxing and football to horse racing. A student of the formbook, he loved stats, trends, numbers and how they can guide punters towards a winner.
It takes place on day one of the festival, this time at a reduced distance of just under 3 miles 6 furlongs having previously taken place over a couple of furlongs extra. The race is for horses aged five and over, is for amateur jockeys only and carries Grade 2 status.
The 2020 version will be worth a cool £125,000 and will be the last race of a fascinating first day of the festival, going off on Tuesday March 10th at 5.30PM.
As well as the fact that this is an amateur riders’ race giving such jockeys a chance of glory, it encapsulates the racing public who love these long-distance types and while it doesn’t always produce an equine superstar, it has been won by the great Tiger Roll who took the event in 2017.
Antepost Key Runners & Favourites
Of course, entries are not yet open for the National Hunt Chase however early betting certainly is as punters and bookmakers make a guess at which types will be involved.
Betting at this stage is naturally wide open, 10/1 the field in fact, but even with relatively little information to go on we can analyse a few of the potential key contenders for the race and begin to formulate an ante post National Hunt Challenge Cup betting plan.
Champagne Classic (10/1)
The one to head the market currently at 10/1 is Gordon Elliott’s Champagne Classic and it’s easy to see why. The eight-year-old missed an entire season at one point in his career as a hurdler, but since going over fences he has flourished and has begun this campaign with two wins from two.
He is liable to improve further given his low mileage, but he’s arguably not guaranteed to want this sort of trip so caution is advised based on that. He does look quality and has to be taken seriously for sure.
Danny Whizzbang (10/1)
Danny Whizzbang was given quotes of up to 16/1 but as short as 10/1 for this race after he beat odds-on favourite Reserve Tank at Newbury in late November, however he only had two rivals to beat that day and it’s rather hard to accurately assess the form.
Reserve Tank himself is a very good yardstick, reaching his current official mark of 151 on just his second chase start, though it could be argued that he was not at his best in defeat to Danny Whizzbang and so it’s difficult to know whether or not to take his new rating of 147 literally.
Even if we do, he has a way to go to get to the likely 160ish area needed to win this race, but anything is possible given that at 6 he should improve plenty between now and March and so he definitely makes the shortlist.
Carefully Selected (16/1)
Willie Mullins’ horse Carefully Selected is generally available at 16/1 and 20/1 for this race after winning easily on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse back in November.
That event was over just two miles, five furlongs but he did see out three miles very well on his final hurdle start when third in Grade 1 company at the Punchestown Festival, so it could be that he will improve for the greater test of stamina here.
Having a familiar profile for this race; he has a way to go at present but is another low-mileage type who is bound to get better and it has to be said that any contender trained by Willie Mullins cannot be easily overlooked for any race at Cheltenham.
Sam Spinner (16/1)
Sam Spinner is an eye-catching name appearing on the list, available to back at around the 16/1 mark generally.
Jedd O’Keeffe’s seven-year-old gelding is already an old favourite on the scene but yet could still have his best years ahead of him, particular over fences.
He is now two from two having switched to the larger obstacles with both wins having come easily at Wetherby, but he is a battle-hardened type who when he goes in more lofty company is bound to pull out more.
It’ll be particularly interesting to see just how much more he does pull out considering he reached the very high mark of 164 over hurdles as recently as March when he followed Paisley Park home in second place in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival, showing him to like the track, to stay well and to still be in very good heart.
With those things in mind, should his trainer believe him to want this sort of trip, he seems to be one of the outstanding candidates for such races and while he is a leading light in the betting market, it’s rather surprising that he isn’t favourite at this early stage.
Something of a wildcard here could be former champion Faugheen. The admirable 15-time winner, a Champion Hurdler who went on to win over three miles, made his belated chase debut in November and won very comfortably at Punchestown.
Having been top-class over hurdles, in fact rated a whopping 174 at one point, he could be anything over fences if only he were a little younger. So, while he has proven himself a champion and he made a very good start to his chasing career, it must be remembered that he will be 12 years old when the festival comes around and very few reach anything like their peak form at such an age.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Stats & Trends
Trends can sometimes point us in a certain direction, but cannot alone help us predict the winner. The last ten renewals of the National Hunt Chase however have highlighted a few things which just might give us a nudge.
This Season’s Form
Cause Of Causes, a festival favourite, and Back in Focus who was climbing the ranks very quickly are notable exceptions to the fact that most runners tend to have had relatively busy seasons.
This may be because over such a long distance winners of this race are required to be battle-hardened, with all of our eight focus horses here having had at least four runs that season, often more, while nine of the ten (the other being Cause Of Causes) having been placed at least twice that campaign.
7 of the last ten winners were aged 7 or 8, very much the right area we feel, while the others haven’t really hit the extremes either at 6, 9 and 10. Generally speaking six would be a little young and not many will be at their best at 10+, so those aged 7-8 are favoured with nine-year-olds given some sway if fitting nicely into other trend categories.
This is where it gets tricky for us, as only three favourites have won in the last ten years, all in a row and two of them at a relatively large 5/1. The average SP of National Hunt Chase winners in this time is bigger than 8/1, but it also shows that huge outsiders tend not to win the event.
Eight of the last 10 winners have had an SP of between 9/2 and 14/1 and so it seems we should not look beyond this group to find the winner.
Fully 12 jockeys share the title of leading rider in this event, all on just two wins, and given the nature of the race’s amateur status finding a specialist jockey on whom to bet is not advised.
The runaway leading trainer however is Jonjo O’Neill with six wins between 1995 and 2016 and, while times are just a little leaner now at Jackdaws Castle, as a local trainer O’Neill knows how to get the job done at Cheltenham and so anything he runs should be taken seriously.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Tips
Any amount of new contenders could announce themselves before March 10th, that much we know, but with Non Runner No Bet offers fairly commonplace now it would be silly not to have a little tickle on this race in the ante post market, particularly with such juicy odds on offer.
Faugheen is a star, we know that, but until we see further evidence of his continued well-being over fences we could not back him at this sort of distance, while his team mate Carefully Selected is another slight enigma at this point who offers us little evidence of his true ability.
The two at the head of the market, Champagne Classic and Danny Whizzbang, may yet prove to be fairly closely matched, at least on the numbers anyway.
Champagne Classic is rated 151 after four chase starts while Danny Whizzbang is rated 147 after just one. So, assuming more improvement from the latter things could be close although it’s hard to know whether to take his form literally. We need more evidence.
The most interesting one of the lot so far is definitely Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up SAM SPINNER and at these odds, he would get the vote.
Not all horses match their hurdle form of course when going chasing, at least not when they’ve reached such a high level, but to have been given a rating of 164 as recently as March means Sam Spinner right now is an undoubted top-class horse.
At 7, he could have remained a hurdler and aimed for the top in that sphere, so it is very interesting that Jedd O’Keeffe has instead decided to embark on a chasing campaign with him. Should he end up in this race, given the evidence that he is a proper stayer, he could well prove to be the best of them so at 16/1 with NRNB on the table, he is worth a small punt.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Ante Post Tip: SAM SPINNER
National Hunt Challenge Cup Offers
We await with interest the offers put out by top bookmakers on the Cheltenham Festival, but if 2019 was anything to go by we should be in a for a treat, especially when opening a new account.
Paddy Power’s Cheltenham Special of a £20 Risk Free Bet (money back in cash if your horse loses) was a highlight, as was 888sport’s Bet £10 Get £10 + £10 on Any Horse Racing Market which was produced in time for the Festival.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Betting Guide
Declarations for the National Hunt Chase, along with all day one declarations, will be made on Sunday March 8th and by then we will have a much better idea of the field, leading to more accurate National Hunt Challenge Cup tips, but the ante post market is already alive.
Its currently relatively open, with around 40% of bets going the way of Champagne Classic, 25% on Carefully Selected and just 4% on Sam Spinner at this stage as people favour the Irish runners.
As a non-handicap, just three places will be available in the each-way market but prices likely to be good, it that may well be the market we dabble in come race time.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Past Winners Past Winners
Last 10 National Hunt Challenge Cup winners:
|2019||Le Breuil||12324||7||14/1||Jamie Codd||Ben Pauling|
|2018||Rathvinden||13112BU||10||9/2||Patrick Mullins||Willie Mullins|
|2017||Tiger Roll||222133||7||16/1||Lisa O’Neill||Gordon Elliott|
|2016||Minella Rocco||3P62||6||8/1||Derek O’Connor||Jonjo O’Neill|
|2015||Cause Of Causes||75||7||8/1||Jamie Codd||Gordon Elliott|
|2014||Midnight Prayer||1U21||9||8/1||Joshua Newman||Alan King|
|2013||Back In Focus||111||8||9/4f||Patrick Mullins||Willie Mullins|
|2012||Teaforthree||321P1||8||5/1f||JT McNamara||Rebecca Curtis|
|2011||Chicago Grey||3211F25||8||5/1f||Derek O’Connor||Gordon Elliott|
|2010||Poker De Sivola||2951||7||14/1||Katie Walsh||Ferdy Murphy|
What Happened in 2019?
Last year it was expected to be another trophy for Willie Mullins and Ireland as his Ballyward was extremely well-backed for this race, going off the 9/4 favourite.
At it turned out though, despite the 18-strong field, the 2019 National Hunt Chase was very much a two-horse race in the end as Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil and Paul Nolan’s Discorama cleared away from the pack to enter a private battle, the former coming out on top by just a half-length at 14/1 with Jerrysback a full 47 lengths further behind in third place.
The win was jockey Jamie Codd’s second success in the race, both achieved in the last ten years.