Desert Orchid won a memorable Victor Chandler Chase

Formerly known as the Victor Chandler Chase, this 2 mile 1 furlong signature chase gives the month of January some real impetus and began life in 1989 with a renewal that still stirs the pulse.

That first renewal saw a dramatic and titanic finish between the popular Panto Prince and the legendary Desert Orchid. For those that saw the race, the memory of Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary still ring in the ears “and Dessie’s fighting back like a tiger” – and so he did.

In fact, Desert Orchid was giving the very smart Panto Prince a stone and 8 pounds and the younger horse looked to have got the better of the dual from the last before Dessie’s competitive attitude kicked in.

Another almost white horse won the race two years later as Blitzkreig provided the first Irish trained winner of the race in a classy renewal which saw Desert Orchid again carrying 12 stone and trying to give lumps of weight to the winner, Katabatic, Young Snugfit and Hogmanay.

Waterloo Boy 
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Mike Deeley

In 1992 the race went to that popular chestnut Waterloo Boy who beat Young Snugfit and the following year, Young Snugfit was in the field, along with Blitzkreig, as Sybillin beat future Champion Chase winner Deep Sensation, providing trainer Jimmy FitzGerald with a second winner of the race following Meikleour in 1990.

By 1994 the race was firmly established as one of the first really big races of the year and a real Cheltenham Festival pointer. Bad weather meant that Ascot was unable to stage the race that year and Viking Flagship – who would go on to win the Champion Chase in March, galloped to victory in a rescheduled race at Warwick.

Nicky Henderson has to date won the race on four separate occasions – the first of these victories was delivered by Big Matt in 1996, while the following year, Ask Tom provided another winner for the north in a race run at Kempton Park, following another Ascot abandonment.

Arthur Moore’s Jeffell became the second Irish-trained winner in 1998 before Call Equiname won the race en-route to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory in 1999. His win (again at Kempton Park) was the first of four to date for Paul Nicholls. The following year, Nicholls saddled Arkle Chase winner Flagship Uberalles who failed to give a stone and 10 pounds to the progressive Nordance Prince in a classy renewal that included Celibate and Direct Route.

The progressive mare Function Dream won the 2001 renewal just before the Foot and Mouth outbreak brought racing in Britain to a standstill and in 2002 Turgeonev won the race for Tim Easterby, continuing the excellent record of northern-trained horses. Sadly the following year the race failed to beat the elements.

The 2004 renewal revived memories of Flagship Uberalles’s fine weight carrying effort as Nicky Henderson’s Isio just repelled the efforts of Azertyioup carrying 11 stone 10 pounds, but the latter would go on to win a Champion Chase a couple of months later.

In 2005 Well Chief, an Arkle Chase winner the year before, managed to carry that same weight to victory in a race staged at Cheltenham and the following year Tysou recorded a career best effort as the race was run at Sandown Park. Bad weather yet again claimed the race in 2007 but at that time, the Victor Chandler Chase gained Grade 1 status and became a level weights race.

David Pipe, who had trained Well Chief, improved his record in the race in 2008, when the improving Tamarinbleu – a recent Cheltenham winner, beat the odds on favourite Twist Magic. The latter was a very smart Paul Nicholls horse who won two Tingle Creeks and added a Victor Chandler Chase to his CV in 2010, sandwiching two victories in the race for his very smart stable mate Master Minded, who of course won two Champion Chases as well.

Somersby
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

2012 saw the 25th anniversary of the race and a fitting renewal stacked with top class horses. The level weights race was won by Somersby who beat subsequent Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow and the smart novice chaser Al Ferof. The year before, Somersby had been defeated by just a short head by Master Minded.

Sprinter Sacre 
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

In 2013 bad weather saw the race re-routed to Cheltenham’s Trials Day at the end of January. Racing against the spectacular backdrop of a snowy Cotswolds, the race was dominated by Sprinter Sacre as the heir to the two mile crown put in a faultless round to leave Mad Moose and Somersby toiling in his wake.

Sire De Grugy
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

With Sprinter Sacre sidelined in 2014, there was a new star in town, as Sire De Grugy brilliantly beat Hidden Cyclone before going on to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory.

Dodging Bullets goes out
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

A year on and yet another future champion emerged from this race as Dodging Bullets beat the returning Sprinter Sacre at Ascot, before going on the Champion Chase success a few weeks later at Cheltenham.

Un De Sceaux on his way to victory in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot
Image by Steven Cargill

Un De Sceaux built up a formidable reputation as a free-running superstar over hurdles. He was just the same as a novice chaser, often making all the running and never seeing another rival in a race.

The 2015 Arkle winner continued his ascent, landing the 2016 Clarence House Chase with a dominant display before he bumped into a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The following season Un De Sceaux won the Tingle Creek Chase from Sire De Grugy and followed up with his second victory in the re-routed Clarence House Chase, which took place at Cheltenham on Trials Day, after bad weather had forced Ascot to abandon. Un De Sceaux went on to win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

 

The Roll of Honour

Year Winner
1987 no race 1987–88
1989 Desert Orchid
1990 Meikleour
1991 Blitzkreig
1992 Waterloo Boy
1993 Sybillin
1994 Viking Flagship
1995 Martha’s Son
1996 Big Matt
1997 Ask Tom
1998 Jeffell
1999 Call Equiname
2000 Nordance Prince
2001 Function Dream
2002 Turgeonev
2003 no race 2003
2004 Isio
2005 Well Chief
2006 Tysou
2007 no race 2007
2008 Tamarinbleu
2009 Master Minded
2010 Twist Magic
2011 Master Minded
2012 Somersby
2013 Sprinter Sacre
2014 Sire De Grugy
2015 Dodging Bullets
2016 Un De Sceaux