Given the Celebration Chase owes its origins to the cancellation of prizes elsewhere, it is a credit to the nature of the race and Sandown Park itself, that the contest is now as appropriately celebrated as any curtain bow should be. Upgraded to a Grade One in 2014, it is a fitting race to culminate the British Jump racing season.
First run in 2001, the Celebration Chase was founded as a substitute for Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase following the foot and mouth outbreak which put paid to Prestbury Park’s Spring festival. There could not have been a more thrilling contest, nor a more suitable winner than the gutsy Edredon Bleu, who was rousted to success by Tony McCoy. The winning margin was a short head.
Such a contest necessitated a renewal and the Celebration Chase hasn’t missed a year since. However, from 2002-2004, the race was run only as a Class B affair, dropping it below pattern company. Fortunately, the race continued to receive able entrants and dual winner Cenkos ensured the race was promoted to Grade Two status in 2005. Yet again, fate arranged a champion fit for purpose as Well Chief took the race.
Despite the race’s relative infancy, Paul Nicholls can already boast five victories in the race. The aforementioned Cenkos achieved the first two with Andreas (2008), Twist Magic (2009) and Sanctuaire (2012) following suit. Nicky Henderson isn’t far behind on four, though it took until 2011 for the first to arrive, courtesy of French Opera. That horse also provided McCoy with his third win in the race, level at the top with Nico de Boinville.
In fact, de Boinville’s victories have all come in the last three years, but it is in the last six where the race has earned its place at racing’s top table.
The brilliant Sire de Grugy’s triumph in 2013 was the final running below Grade One status. To prove his quality, the Moores’ stable star won the 2014 renewal too.
He was absent from the 2015 race, the most open in history. One horse had other ideas though: Special Tiara galloped his rivals into submission, winning by six lengths from the mighty Sprinter Sacre.
And so, it is Sprinter we come to. He’d achieved the impossible dream at Cheltenham the previous month, recovering from a heart defect to win his second Champion Chase. Many thought the young pretender Un De Sceaux would turn the tables at Sandown. Yet, on his final racecourse appearance, Sprinter strode clear in supreme style, winning by 15 lengths to cue pandemonium in the stands.
Many would have thought Nicky Henderson could never replaced him, only for Altior to come along. Already a legend due to his record-breaking feat of 19 straight successes, he has won the last two runnings and by all accounts, will return for the hat-trick attempt later this month.
That is no guarantee, even with his quality. The Celebration Chase is now as true a Grade One as they come and only a champion shall add his name to the trophy.
Buy tickets for bet365 Jump Finale on the 27 April.
Our guest article is written by Joe Napier, a freelance writer and blogger. Read more by Joe on his blog, https://joeblogsracing.wordpress.com/.