Desert Orchid winning in 1988

Desert Orchid won the inaugural race in a thrilling contest with Panto Prince

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 (seen at Newbury) was a popular winner of the Victor Chandler Chase Image reproduced with the kind permission of Mike Deeley

Waterloo Boy (seen at Newbury) was a popular winner of the Victor Chandler Chase
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.

Master Minded Image by Toby Connors

Master Minded won two Victor Chandlers and two Champion Chases
Image by Toby Connors

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 has enjoyed another terrific season

Somersby was an emotional winner in 2012

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 Cheltenham Racecourse

Sprinter Sacre won at Cheltenham in 2013
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham 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 at Sandown Park pre-parade Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Sire De Grugy won in 2014 before lifting the Champion Chase
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 continued his climb up the two mile echelons in the Tingle Creek Chase in December Image reproduced with the kind permission of Sandown Park Racecourse

Dodging Bullets continued his climb up the two mile echelons with his 2015 victory
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, the third successive year this had happened.

In 2016, a new name went on the winner’s roster, as Un De Sceaux became the first Irish-trained winner of the race since Jeffell, in 1998.

Un De Sceaux at Ascot
Image by Steven Cargill

Having won the Arkle at Cheltenham, the previous March, the exciting Willie Mullins chaser had fallen on his seasonal return. However, at Ascot, he didn’t put a foot wrong, easily accounting for former Champion Sire De Grugy.

The following season, he again defeated Sire De Grugy, this time on his seasonal bow in the Tingle Creek Chase. At Ascot, Un De Sceaux was simply imperious, defeating a top class field that included Ryanair Chase winner Uxizandre and two Champion Chase winners in Dodging Bullets and Special Tiara (who went on to score in that season’s Championship race).

In January 2018, Un De Sceaux became the first horse to win the Clarence House Chase three times, when he readily accounted for Speredek, after the novice Brain Power had fallen.

Altior lands the Clarence House Chase
Image supplied by Goffs

A year later, Un De Sceaux’s run of victories in the race was ended as the reigning Champion Chase winner Altior landed the spoils.

Altior would go on to win his second Champion Chase in March, underlining the importance of this Ascot contest.

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
2017 Un De Sceaux
2018 Un De Sceaux
2019 Altior