If you think of Ascot, the likelihood is that you’re going to think about flat racing. That is entirely fair, given the fact that it is possibly one of the most famous flat race courses in the world, let alone the United Kingdom. Yet what many people might not realise is that it’s a course that also holds jump racing in the winter months, ensuring that there is a steady stream of income even when it isn’t flat racing season. The first National Hunt meeting of the year is the Clarence House Chase Race Day, which is typically scheduled to take place in January. Though not the first jump meeting of the season, it is a way to start the new year with a bang.
Whilst Ascot Racecourse is usually a beautiful one to look at in the summer thanks to the flowers being in full bloom, things are a little different in January. Depending on whether the country has been hit with a cold snap, you might well find that there is snow on the ground or some frost, giving it a truly wintery feel. Indeed do check in advance if you plan to go to this meeting as has been abandoned a few times, including in both 2023 and 2024 due to frost.
It is also possible that the sun is shining, making it seem as though it is a lot warmer than it really is. As you’ll now doubt have figured out from the name of the race day, the feature race of the meeting is the Clarence House Chase, but it is surrounded by other decent races to keep the race juices flowing.
Clarence House Chase Day Race Card
It is fair to say that the exact races that are run on Clarence House Chase Day will change from time to time, but there are decent races that take place around the main race that make it a decent meeting to head to. Here is a look at the races:
Race 1 - Juvenile Hurdle (GBB Race) - 12:35
- Distance: 1m 7f 152y (3157m)
- Fences: 8
A Class 3 race for four-year-olds, the Juvenile Hurdle is run over one mile and seven and a half furlongs. It doesn't often boast the biggest field, but is a chance for young hurdlers to get some experience on a decent course.
They have to jump eight hurdles during the course of the race, with the event tending to take about four minutes to complete when the Going is Soft. It is a qualifying event for the Novices' Championship Hurdle Series.
- Horse - Doctor Parnassus (3/1)
- Jockey - Harry Skelton
- Trainer - Dan Skelton (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £12,100
- For The Winner - £6,699
Race 2 - Handicap Chase - 13:10
- Distance: 2m 7f 180y (4791m)
- Fences: 20
The Handicap Chase that is run on Clarence House Chase Day is usually known by the company that sponsors it. In 2022, for example, it was the SBK Handicap Chase. A Class 3 race, it is open to horses aged five and over that have a rating of between 0 and 135. The handicap nature of the event means that the official handicapper assigns the weight for each horse to carry based on its ability.
A steeplechase that is run over two miles, seven furlongs and 180 yards, there are 20 fences that need to be jumped and it takes around six and a half minutes for the race to be completed when the Going is Soft. Expect a field of around ten and a couple to pull up.
- Horse - Cat Tiger (9/2)
- Jockey - Mr David Maxwell
- Trainer - Paul Nicholls (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £17,139
- For The Winner - £8,714
Race 3 - Handicap Hurdle (GBB Race) - 13:45
- Distance: 2m 3f 58y (3875m)
- Fences: 10
As with the Handicap Chase, the Handicap Hurdle run on Clarence House Chase Day is typically referred to by its sponsored name, such as the SBK Holloway's Handicap Hurdle. It is a Class 2 race that is open to horses aged four and over and takes the horses around five minutes to run the two miles, three furlongs and 58 yards on Soft Going.
There are ten hurdles in place to test and challenge the horses, so it is reasonably challenging for a hurdling event. The handicapper assigns weights to each horse. There will be a decent field for this one of around a dozen runners and a few will always pull up.
- Horse - Unexpected Party (3/1)
- Jockey - Harry Skelton
- Trainer - Dan Skelton (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £29,511
- For The Winner - £15,609
Race 4 - Warfield Mares' Hurdle (GBB Race) - 14:20
- Distance: 2m 7f 118y (4735m)
- Fences: 11
The build-up to the Clarence House Chase really gets underway with the Warfield Mares' Hurdle, which is a Grade 2 event run over two miles, seven furlongs and 118 yards. It tends to feature 11 hurdles and is open to fillies and mares aged four and over. Expect a moderate field of 5-8 runners.
First run in 2008, it was known as the Ollexco Mares' Only Hurdle on its debut, the Warfields Mares' Hurdle a year later and the 1942 Was A Vintage Year Mares' Hurdle between 2010 and 2012.
It has had numerous sponsors and they have often been added to the race's title. Magic of Light won the horse in successive years in 2019 and 2020, both for Robbie Power, but Noel Fehily is the most successful jockey with three wins. Harry Fry, Jessica Harrington and Dan Skelton have all trained the winner twice each and always in back to back years.
Due to the Clarence House raceday often being abandoned this race was not run in 2017 and 2023. In fact in 2017 it was moved to Huntingdon but then that meeting was also cancelled due to frost. The 2024 running took place at Doncaster.
- Horse - Marie's Rock (6/4)
- Jockey - James Bowen
- Trainer - Nicky Henderson (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £58,218
- For The Winner - £34,170
Race 5 - Handicap Chase (GBB Race) - 14:55
- Distance: 2m 5f 8y (4232m)
- Fences: 17
Known as the bet365 when the race took place in 2022, the Handicap Chase that is run on Clarence House Chase Day is a Class 2 event open to horses aged five and over.
Run over two miles, five furlongs and eight yards, the race sees the handicapper at work once again in order to assign weights to the participants.
There are 17 fences to be negotiated during the tow miles, five furlongs and eight yards of the event, which takes around five and a half minutes to complete if the Going is Soft. There is usually a field of 5-10 for this one with a couple that generally don't make it to the end.
- Horse - Phoenix Way (7/1)
- Jockey - Kevin Brogan
- Trainer - Harry Fry (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £83,615
- For The Winner - £44,479
Race 6 - Clarence House Chase (GBB Race) - 15:35
- Distance: 2m 167y (3371m)
- Fences: 13
There is no question that the Clarence House Chase is the key race of the day, which is why the entire meeting is named after it. A Grade 1 National Hunt race, it is open to horses aged five and over and takes place over two miles and 167 yards. There are 13 fences to be jumped in this steeplechase, so the horses will need to cope with the obstacles in front of them if they're hoping to get across the finish line first. When it was inaugurated, the race was sponsored by the bookmaker Victor Chandler. Though registered as the Clarence House Chase, it was often referred to by its sponsored name by most people until the company ended its associated with it in 2013.
The following year, the race's sponsored name was abandoned in favour of its registered name, with Sodexo taking over sponsorship duties. The 2018 race was sponsored by Royal Salute Whisky, then in 2019 Matchbook, the betting exchange, took over. The race was originally planned for its first running in 1987, but a heavy frost meant that that year the racing had to be abandoned. It would have been run a year later if not for fog, meaning that it actually took place for the first time in 1989. It was originally run as a handicap event over a distance of two miles, being extended by a furlong and ceasing to be a handicap in 2007.
In terms of what to look out for when watching the race, many of the leading contenders for the Queen Mother Champion Chase will get a run out here. At the time of writing, there have been seven horses that have won both races during the same season. They were:
- Viking Flagship (1994)
- Call Equiname (1999)
- Master Minded (2009)
- Sprinter Sacre (2013)
- Sire De Grugy (2014)
- Dodging Bullets (2015)
- Altior (2019)
Because the race is open to horses aged five and over with no real restrictions in place, it is possible for horses to win it more than once. The first to manage this was Master Minded, who managed it first in 2009 and then again two years later. It is Un de Sceaux that has enjoyed success in the event more than any other horse, though, winning it three years running in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Ruby Walsh was the jockey for two of those wins as well as one of those achieved by Master Minded and a win for Twist Magic, setting the marker for other jockeys in the racer with four wins. Nicky Henderson is the one to bear for trainers with six wins.
The race has actually been run away from Ascot for five of its editions to date due to this meeting often being abandoned due to frost. In 1994 it was held at Warwic in 1994 and Kempton in 1997 and 1999 when it was a handicap race, there was no race in 2003. Since becoming a conditions race it was not run in 2007 and moved to Cheltenham in 2013, 2017, 2023 and 2024.
- Horse - Elixir De Nutz (22/1)
- Jockey - Freddie Gingell
- Trainer - Joe Tizzard (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £141,525
- For The Winner - £85,425
Race 7 - Novices' Hurdle (Qualifier) (GBB Race) - 16:05
- Distance: 2m 5f 141y (4353m)
- Fences: 10
The British EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle is open to horses aged between four and seven. It is a Class 3 qualifier, with ten hurdles to be jumped during the course of the race. Generally there are 8-10 runners.
Run over two miles, five furlongs and 141 yards, the hurdle race has had numerous sponsors over the years who get their name included in its official title during its running. When the Going is Soft, you can expect it take about five and a half minutes before the leaders make it across the finish line.
- Horse - Jerrash (20/1)
- Jockey - Jamie Moore
- Trainer - Gary Moore (GB)
- Overall Prize Money - £10,820
- For The Winner - £5,991
About the Race Day
Heading to Ascot at the start of January gives punters the chance to blow away their post-New Year cobwebs, clearing any heavy heads and enjoying the wintery feel of a course that is typically set up for the summer. The racecourse is alive with activity off the course as well as on it, with the bars serving themed cocktails designed to warm you up and the restaurants looking to present you with winter dishes that will help to melt away any January blues. What your race day will look like in an exact sense will largely depend on where in the racecourse you find yourself, with most of the big enclosures open to customers.
The fact that the Clarence House Chase Race Day is held in January means that the summer dresses will have been hidden away in the wardrobe for months. Instead, expect racegoers to be opting for knitwear, warm coats and wellington boots. It is a day to be enjoyed by both the punters and the horses, with those that can take to the Going of the day quickest the most likely to emerge on top. Of course, jump racing is such that it asks all sorts of questions of the competitors, so make sure you don’t rush to judgement on how the horses will get on and work hard to evaluate each on their merits before filling in your coupon.