Graded races are the key ones at any meeting, being the most prestigious in jump racing. Grade 1 races obviously sit at the top of that pile, with Grade 2 coming underneath them and Grade 3 offerings bringing up the rear. Yet you should take from that that Grade 3 races are somehow less worth watching or filled with prestige than Grade 1 and Grade 2 races.
After all, the Grand National is a Grade 3 race and it is one of most-watched horse races anywhere in the world. Billed as ‘The World’s Greatest Steeplechase’, only the Cheltenham Gold Cup can rival it when it comes to British racing and that is a Grade 1 race. Sufficed to say, then, that Grade 3 races certainly don’t lack interest for racegoers.
Grade 3 Races At The Cheltenham Festival
|Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase||2m 62y||Grade 3||£108,200|
|County Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 3||£98,500|
|Stable Plate Handicap Chase||2m 4f 127y||Grade 3||£108,000|
|Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle||2m 7f 213y||Grade 3||£98,500|
Juvenile Novices' Hurdle
Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 3||£79,000|
|Coral Cup||2m 5f||Grade 3||£98,500|
|Festival Trophy Handicap Chase||3m 1f||Grade 3||£102,500|
Grade 3 Races At Other Cheltenham Meetings
|Fillies' Juvenile Handicap Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 3||£40,000|
|Greatwood Handicap Hurdle||2m 87y||Grade 3||£98,500|
|Handicap Chase||3m 3f 71y||Grade 3||£59,000|
|December Handicap Chase||3m 2f||Grade 3||£59,000|
|Gold Cup Handicap Chase||2m 4f 127y||Grade 3||£128,000|
|Trophy Handicap Chase||2m 4f 127y||Grade 3||£69,000|
|Handicap Chase||2m 4f 127y||Grade 3||£69,000|
|BetVictor Gold Cup||2m 4f 44y||Grade 3||£160,000|
Grade 3 Races Explained
All Graded races are those of the highest quality and the ones that are considered to offer international interest. The idea of offering races Grades was introduced in 1964 and the manner in which they are decided has changed a number of times since then. There are around 40 Grade 1 races, 70 Grade 2s and about 40 Grade 3s.
The differences between the Grades are actually only slight, with Grade 1 offerings tending to be Weight-For-Age races in which certain conditions determine how much weight is carried by the horses. Grade 2 races are the same but slightly lower quality, with the key difference being that a horse’s previous successful performances will dictate any extra weight carried.
When it comes to Grade 3 races, they are virtually all Open Handicaps. That means that any weight addition carried by the horses is dictated by the horse’s official rating. This level of handicapping means that the races can often be full of excitement, with fast improvers often doing better as the season goes on.
There are no hard and fast rules in Grade 3 races, so it’s not as if they would all be the same length or have the same number of jumps in them. In fact, there aren’t even any rules about the age of horses that can take part in Grade 3 races, which is part of what makes them such an interest set of events to talk about.
Big Grade 3 Races
The best thing to do in order to help you understand the manner in which Grade 3 races can vary wildly from each other is to have a look at some specific examples. Here we’ll take a look at the Grand National as well as the Grade 3s that are run at Cheltenham during the course of the National Hunt season.
First run in 1839 and taking place at Aintree Racecourse on the outskirts of Liverpool, the Grand National is the most valuable European jump race. It is often said that it is the race that even non-horse racing fans will watch, such is the importance of it in British culture. It is run over 4 miles and 514 yards, with 30 fences to be jumped.
The fences are bigger and more challenging than the fences you’d find in pretty much any other race, which is part of what makes the race so exciting. It is open to horses aged 7 and over that have a rating of 120 or more and that have managed to place in a chase of 3 miles or more before this race. The maximum weight for the handicappers is 11 stone 10 pounds.
Crest Nicholson Chase
Known under numerous sponsorship titles since it was run for the first time in 1993, the Crest Nicholson Chase is for horses aged 5 and over. It’s run at Cheltenham over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 127 yards and features 17 fences. It was a Listed race when it was introduced, eventually being upgraded to Grade 3 in 2005.
Festival Trophy Handicap Chase
Run over 3 miles and 1 furlong and with 20 fences to be jumped, the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase is for horses aged 5 and up. It is one of the races on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and was originally known as the National Hunt Handicap Chase. Horses that do well in this often compete in the Grand National in the future.
Another Cheltenham Festival race, the Coral Cup is for horses aged 4 and over. Run over 2 miles and 5 furlongs, it has 10 hurdles and was established in 1993. It has always been sponsored by Coral, hence its name, and was promoted to Grade 3 in 1999. In 2008 it didn’t take place as planned owing to high winds, instead being moved to the New Course.
Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
Named after the successful jockey and trainer Fred Winter, the race is open to 4-year-old juvenile novices. There are 8 hurdles that need to be jumped during the 2 miles and 87 yards of the event. It was one of a number of races that were introduced to the Festival in 2005 when a fourth day was added on to the meeting and was Listed until being promoted to Grade 3 in 2009.
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase
Open to horses aged 5 and over and run over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 127 yards, the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase has 17 fences. The convoluted name of the event comes from the fact that it is sponsored by Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable, having enjoyed numerous sponsors since its inauguration in 1951.
County Handicap Hurdle
The Cheltenham Festival has more Grade 3 races than any other meeting at Prestbury Park, with the County Handicap Hurdle being for horses aged 5 and over. It’s run over 2 miles and 179 yards and there are 8 hurdles during that process. Inaugurated in 1920, it was the final race of the Festival until 2009 when a new running order was announced.
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase
The Grand Annual is run over 2 miles and 62 yards, boasting 14 fences. It’s open to horses aged 5 and up, taking place on the New Course at Cheltenham during the Festival. It’s the meeting’s oldest race, having been run for the first time in 1934 and moving to Prestbury Park permanently in 1913. The name of Johnny Henderson was added to its title in 2005.
BetVictor Gold Cup
Cheltenham is a course synonymous with the Gold Cup, though this one is different to the prestigious event run during the Cheltenham Festival. Inaugurated in 1960, it is run over 2 miles and 4 and a half furlongs, offering the challenge of 16 fences along the way. It takes place in November and has boasted its current title since 2016.
BetVictor Handicap Chase
Another race sponsored by a bookmaker, the Handicap Chase is run over 3 miles, 3 furlongs and 71 yards and is for horses aged 4 and over. There are 22 fences, proving the fact that there really can be any number of obstacles and any distance to run in a Grade 3 event. It has enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years briefly being the Henrietta Knight Handicap Chase in 2012.
Open to horses aged 4 and over, the Greatwood Hurdle is run on Cheltenham’s Old Course over 2 miles and 87 yards. It boasts 8 hurdles and was classed as a Listed race until it was promoted to Grade 3 in 2004. It’s another race that has had numerous different sponsored titles over the years, with Greatwood being a charity that looks after retired racehorses.
BetVictor Handicap Chase
Run in December, the BetVictor Handicap Chase takes place over 3 miles and 2 furlongs and took place for the first time in 2003. It was promoted to Grade 3 in 2011 and has had various names over the years as different sponsors have been involved with it. There are 22 fences that the horses need to negotiate during the course of the event.
December Gold Cup
As mentioned elsewhere, Cheltenham is a racecourse that is associated closely with Gold Cups. This one is run in December over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 127 yards, with 17 fences to be jumped. First run in 1963 as the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup because of sponsorship, it’s for horses aged 4 and over and is often run by horses that took part in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Fairlawne Handicap Chase
A race for horses aged 5 and over and run over 2 miles, 4 furlongs and 127 yards, the Fairlawne Handicap Chase features 17 fences. It takes place on New Year’s Day and was first run as the Cleeve Hill Handicap in 1990. It was given Grade 3 status in 2009 and since 2014 took on the title of the Fairlawne Chase, which was a conditions race over 3 miles run at Windsor until 1997.