Predating the Grand National, Cheltenham's Grand Annual Chase is the oldest race in the calendar, first run in 1834, although there were periods when the race was not run at all.
The inaugural Grand Annual Chase was run on April 4 1834 "in the neighbourhood of Andoversford, and was won by Mr R D'Oyley on his own horse Fugleman.
According to a report in the Birmingham Journal, the line of the course was as follows:"To start by Harry's Wall - down the hill by Foxcote Grove over Whittingham Road by labourers' cottages, leaving Foxcote Village to the left - across two pieces of meadow leading to the brook - over brook - then up the hill with some stiff rails with ground ascending them - still up the hill across a piece of seeds (sic)and over a high wall rendered more so from the ground ascending to it, when the hill was pretty well mounted, then across the flat across four extensive fields, Chifley Groves to the right into Claypitch, lying alongside the London Road, on the opposite side of which is a small grass cover..."
A crowd estimated at 10,000 watched the race, which unusually for a steeplechase at this time, could be seen in its entirety from the winning field. Fugleman took an early lead and jumped without fault until somersaulting at the last fence. Although the horse suffered a cut head and his jockey was badly shaken, the pair were re-united and won the race "cleverly" from Colonel Gilbert's horse Conrad.
The course for the 1835 race was described in great detail in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Advertiser: "The course started on the left on the Whittington Road.It followed a line alongside the road towards a barn, then on to Mr Bennett's "seed piece". Riders were advised to leave on the left to avoid a difficult jump and a cottage in the second field. The riders were then told to aim for the upper line. The course continued along the London Road to Mr Smith's farm, across a lane leading to Andoversford then round Mr Arkell's barn, leaving it on the right then down for the London Road, round the inn and up for the Stow Road, alongside of which the course continued and finished in a large field of Mr Fletcher's at Hampen Hill - a distance upwards of four miles."
"The many fences consisted of hedges and ditches, walls, two brooks, and one double post and rail fence with a ditch in between landing into the turnpike road near the inn. The first fence was a new wall (5ft). The next fence of any consequence was a bog...over a hedge with a ditch on either side. Then came some ordinary hedge and ditch leaps, brooks etc. But on arriving at Stow Road were a few "chokers" - one wall leading into a turnip field measuring 5ft 4", then into the Sevenhampton Road over two strong walls; the wall near the Squareditch gate was a stiff high leap with a ditch on either side - a formidable challenge for a horse that had raced for four miles at racing speed."
Fugleman and his owner Mr D'Oyley, came close to repeating their 1834 success; however they went the wrong side of a flag, and although recovering quickly, just failed to catch Bobadil, the mount of Mr G Patrick, who won by half a length. Caliph, ridden by Captain Martin Becher, finished third.
One of the conditions of that 1835 race was that the winner be sold for £100. The sale was duly completed with Captain Becher acquiring Bobadil.
The course used in 1836 was much the same as the previous year, the only change being the brook was crossed on three occasions, not two. It was held on Friday March 25, and the winner's prize was doubled to £50 with Lord Segrave providing £25, and the other half provided by "the town". A field of 12 lined up for the third renewal and once again the race produced a close finish with barely a length separating the first four. Mr W Bryan's Standard, ridden by Mr W Smith, won by a head from The Performer, with Beatrice third and Vivien fourth.
The course for the 1837 Grand Annual was moved to near Winchcombe, six miles north-east of Cheltenham, starting and finishing on Sudeley Castle Green. In 1838 it was held south of Cheltenham, starting in a field near Catcombe Wood, running to Hilcot Downs, Cowley Brook and finishing at the starting point.
The 1839 Grand Annual was held a little further south, around Cockleford Hill, Catcombe Wood and Tom Tit Bottom. The winner that year was Mr Elwood's champion Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason, winners of the first Grand National that year. Only three rivals took them on, Lottery and Mason scoring a decisive victory over Charity (destined to win the 1841 Grand National) with Cannon Ball third.
The Grand Annual returned to Andoversford in 1840, with the value of the race having increased dramatically from £70 to £200. Thirteen runners took part, including Lottery, again partnered by Jem Mason. Lottery was lumbered with a record weight of 13st 3lbs, , but even that weight couldn't stop him winning his second Grand Annual Chase, and in a repeat of the 1839 Grand National finish, Lottery finished first and Seventy Four second. Arthur and The Sea, second and fourth respectively in the 1840 Grand National, finished unplaced.
The 1841 Grand Annual was again held in the vicinity of Andoversford, the race resulting in a dead-heat between The Grayling (Tom Olliver)and Zino (Mr William Holman).
The 1842 race took place just north of Andoversford starting in a field by the side of Sandywell Park running to Ossage Farm and Dowdeswell Farm with the winning field towards Northleach. It was won by the 10/1 chance Dragman, ridden by Mr William Holman, beating three unquoted outsiders in Merchant, Kangaroo and Zethus.
When the weights were announced for the 1843 Grand Annual, held over a figure of eight course with the Andoversford Inn at the centre, both Lottery and the 1842 Grand National winner Gaylad had been allocated a thumping 15st 7lbs, while the 1841 National winner Charity by comparison was given a mere 12st, 49lbs less than the joint top weights. Inevitably, both Lottery and Gaylad were scratched, along with Charity. It was left to William Holman to complete a hattrick of Grand Annual wins, this time riding his own horse The Page. Mr Elmore's replacement for Lottery, Scotsfoot, with future Grand National winner Vanguard, third. The Returned fell in the closing stages, seriously injuring his jockey Mr R Barker. It was feared Barker's injuries would prove fatal, but he evidently made a full recovery.
That was the last time the Grand Annual was held in the vicinity of Andoversford, until now. in 1844 the race mysteriously vanished from the calendar and was not run again until 1847, this time at Noverton, adjoining Prestbury Park. Apart from a brief period when the race was staged at Southam from 1861-66, the race has been held at Prestbury Park ever since.
Information complied from The Complete Record's The Cheltenham Grand Annual 1834 - 1906, published August 2007.
Andoversford Races is 6m east of Cheltenham near Dowdeswell Manor. Follow signs from the reservoir out of Cheltenham on the A40, or from the A436.