The BHA has announced that the popular Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase that is usually held on Countryside Day of the November Meeting (Day 1, Friday 11th November) has been moved to Festival Trials Day on 28th January next year.
In place a veterans’ handicap chase over two and a half miles has been added. This, as with all other races at the meeting, will run on the Old Course.
The Cross Country Chase is usually the longest race of the November meeting, over three miles, six furlongs and thirty-seven yards and features the most obstacles to be jumped, 32 fences. It is the only race over the 3 days that is not run on the old course but is instead, as its name suggests, run over the more gruelling Cross Country Course.
The nature of the race means it is generally run by older horses who have more stamina (6-12 year olds). It is the race at Cheltenham that is most akin to the Grand National, which is evident by the fact that the record winner of its bigger cousin, the cross country chase at the festival, is Tiger Roll, who has won the National twice (and probably should have won more).
Delta Work, trained by Gordon Elliott, was due to run the race on 11th November – he won the Cross Country at the festival last year beating Tiger Roll into second before his retirement.
A lack of rain in recent months has been given as the reason for the race moving to January. The length of the race and number of fences involved simply means there is too much injury risk for horses if they are running on firm ground.
The Old Course is also dry but has been watered since the Showcase meeting. It has required considerable irrigation and with the Cheltenham reservoir only 30% full, as many parts of England still face drought conditions, there is simply not enough water to also water the Cross Country course for just one race.
The Veterans’ handicap chase that replaces it will be on the old course, over a shorter distance of 2.5 miles and involve less fences to be jumped. The same situation actually happened in 2016/17 when the Cross Country was also moved to January and a Veteran’s chase was held in November.
In 2019 Countryside Day was called off due to water logging, facing the opposite challenge to the meeting in 2022. It highlights the challenges that Cheltenham racecourse faces as climate change makes weather more unpredictable. The racecourse will need to adapt in the coming years to deal with both flooding and drought on a more regualr basis.