Sport

The origins of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and why it is still one of the sport’s biggest races

When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, everyone has their favourite races. Whether it’s the prestige and history of the Gold Cup, the curtain-raising entertainment of the Champion Hurdle, or the more recently manufactured thrills of the Ryanair Chase, every individual race carries its own story and its own special character.

One of the Festival’s most iconic events is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. As the feature race of the meeting’s second day, the Champion Chase holds a special place in the hearts of many horse racing fans. There have been so many entertaining editions of the race over the years, and that’s why it is so highly anticipated each year by those perusing the Cheltenham betting.

As the 2022 Cheltenham Festival draws ever closer, it’s that time of year when fans of the sport begin to get excited about the prestigious four-day fixture. Indeed, this year’s event will have a special sense of celebration due to the fact that full crowds will be in attendance for the first time since the fateful 2020 edition, which was held against the backdrop of the rapidly developing coronavirus pandemic.

Much of the crowd’s excitement will centre around the showpiece races, and the Queen Mother Champion Chase has the potential to offer plenty of drama, as we’ll touch on in a moment. First, let’s take a deep dive into the history of the race, and how it has developed into one of horse racing’s biggest occasions.

Origins and name

The Champion Chase was first held in 1959, and it is actually the youngest of the four championship races that define the Cheltenham Festival’s four days. The Stayer’s Hurdle is the oldest, having first been run in 1912, followed by the Gold Cup in 1924 and the Champion Hurdle in 1927. It was a big deal for a new championship race to be introduced over 30 years after the Champion Hurdle was first raced, but it was also a time of excitement.

Of course, when it was first created, the race was named the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase. The ‘Queen Mother’ moniker was attributed to the race in 1980, as a way of marking the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday.

Wife of King George VI, who died in 1952, Queen consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon developed an interest in horse racing around the time of her husband’s illness and death. She became a passionate advocate for the sport, and owned a number of racehorses.

The decision to name the race in her honour was made as recognition of her contribution to horse racing, and that name has stuck ever since, with many affectionately referring to the Champion Chase as ‘the Queen Mother’.

Memorable winners

Part of what makes the Queen Mother Champion Chase so special is the plethora of dramatic races we have seen over the years. There are so many famous trainers, jockeys and horses who have a special relationship with the race.

There are three trainers who have recorded six victories in the Queen Mother Champion Chase – Tom Dreaper in the 1960s and 1970s, along with Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson in more recent times. Willie Mullins, who has more Cheltenham winners to his name than any other trainer, has never managed to land a victory in the day two showpiece.

As far as jockeys are concerned, there are two men who rule the roost in the Champion Chase record books. The famous Pat Taaffe recorded five wins in the race over the course of the ‘60s and ‘70s, while Barry Geraghty, a jockey who has a fine record at the Festival, also has five winners to his name.

The only horse to have recorded three Queen Mother Champion Chase victories is Badsworth Boy, who achieved the sensational feat of winning three successive editions of the race in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

An occasion to savour

As interesting as it is to reef through the Champion Chase records and statistics, the most important thing at the moment is the build-up to the 2022 renewal. Indeed, it promises to be one of the most exciting races of the Cheltenham Festival this year, with several horses in strong contention to land the first prize.

Last year saw something of a shock as Put The Kettle On stormed to victory for trainer Henry de Bromhead, but this year many are expecting it to go the way of the favourites. These include Chacun Pour Soi, who failed to deliver the goods in 2021 despite his status as pre-race favourite.

However, the main intrigue lies in the potential battle between Shiskhin and Energumene. The former, trained by Henderson, is the odds-on favourite having pipped the Mullins-trained Energumene to the Clarence House Chase first prize back in January.

There is a rivalry developing between the two horses, and history could be made either way when they go head-to-head in the Champion Chase, with Henderson potentially earning a record seventh win in the race, or Mullins finally getting his hands on the title for the first time.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a Cheltenham championship race with no shortage of history, and the 2022 edition could just prove to be the most dramatic piece of its ever-developing tapestry.

Huynh Nguyen

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