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Tuesday 13 December 2022

Henry VIII Novices' Chase

The Henry VIII Novices' Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 119 yards – that is, slightly shorter than two miles, but permissible since National Hunt racecourses were remeasured in 2015 – at Sandown Park in early December. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to horses aged five years and upwards who, at the start of the current season, are yet to win a race over regulation fences and are therefore classified as 'novices' over the larger obstacles.

The historic town of Esher, Surrey, which has been the home of Sandown Park since 1875, was a Royal hunting lodge during the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547); the race is run in memory of 'Old Coppernose' himself. The Henry VIII Novices' Chase was inaugurated, as a Grade 2 contest, in 1987 but, having achieved sky-high standing, was eventually upgraded to Grade 1 status in 2011.

Reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the leading trainer in the history of the Henry Novices' Chase with seven wins, courtesy of Dines (1998), Thisthatandtother (2003), Marodima (2007), Al Ferof (2011), Hinterland (2013), Vibrato Valtat (2014) and Dynamite Dollars (2018). Speaking at his owners' day in September, 2022, Paul Nicholls said, 'We're really strong with our novice chasers...', which include Gelino Bello, Monmiral, McFabulous, Complete Unknown and Stage Star, so further success in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase is by no means out of the question.

Arguably the best horse to win the race, though, was the prolific Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson. The High Chaparral gelding sprinted clear to win by 6 lengths on just his second start over fences and went on the win the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice at the next three Cheltenham Festivals, achieving a Timeform Annual Rating of 180 in the process.