The Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the greatest spectacles of the Cheltenham Festival as the top two-mile speed merchants go into battle (3.20pm, Wednesday). This is an extraordinary renewal as the two market leaders are both on recovery missions after physical problems, making them vulnerable.
Sprinter Sacre, the 7/2 favourite, was once untouchable but he has plenty to prove here. When at his peak, he started this race as the 1/4 favourite. He won like one, beating Sizing Europe (50/1) by nearly 20 lengths, without ever coming off the bridle two years ago.
That was just one imperious victory in a sequence of 10 at the highest level. He was aptly described by one commentator as ‘the chaser from the gods’.
But in December 2013 he fell to earth. Something was obviously wrong when Barry Geraghty pulled him up in at Kempton on his seasonal reappearance. A well-documented heart problem was diagnosed. Heart problems cannot be cured by a course of drugs.
Latest Champion Chase Betting Odds
After extensive heart-monitoring and careful convalescence he started as the 4/6 favourite on his reappearance in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in December a year later. He didn’t jump with his usual fluency but momentarily looked the possible winner when putting in a spectacular leap three out. It was a short-lived effort. He was beaten three lengths by Paul Nicholls’ (pictured) Dodging Bullets who made him look rather one-paced when it mattered. Geraghty sensibly stopped pushing as soon as he realised he was beaten.
Trainer Nicky Henderson was pleased with his run. He admitted that Sprinter Sacre was not 100% fit and described it as a step forward towards his ultimate aim – this race. Afterwards there was worrying evidence of small bleed that Henderson played down, saying it was ‘not ideal’ but that ‘the significance of it didn’t seem too dramatic’. A bleed of any scale is never good news.
Henderson is apparently pleased with his work at home now but there are no suggestions that he is back to his best. On his current mark of 179 (he was rated 9lb higher prior to his problems) this nine-year-old is still rated 7lb higher than his closest rival and might well win if he is in good health.
That rival is Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy (7/2), another nine-year-old, who has had problems of his own since winning here last year. His jockey, virtual trainer and biggest supporter, Jamie Moore, admitted afterwards that Sire De Grugy is better going right-handed, didn’t like the ground (it was good) but still won. His task was made easier on the day by disappointing performances from some fancied horses.
The second favourite, Henderson’s Captain Conan, pulled up lame. Willie Mullins’ Arvika Ligeonniere obviously had a problem and also pulled up. It was Mick Channon’s Somersby (40/1) who survived to finish second by six lengths.
Sire De Grugy established himself firmly at the top of what looked to be a fairly weak two mile chase division (in the absence of Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig) last season. He won six of his seven starts, including four Grade 1 affairs. He had an excuse for his only defeat here in November 2013. He stumbled badly after the fourth fence, not only losing ground but also his rhythm. He was beaten three lengths by Henderson’s Kid Cassidy.
Prior to this season Sire De Grugy suffered a hip injury whilst rolling that seriously delayed his reappearance. He usually starts in October. Jockey Jamie voiced concerns about his jumping before we finally saw him in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February. He was right. He lacked fluency from the off and his jumping fell apart four out. A blunder three out left Jamie personally experiencing the give in ground.
Further practice was clearly required and he was sent out again two weeks later, carrying top weight at Chepstow in a four-runner handicap chase. Eyebrows were raised but the gamble appeared to pay off. Sire De Grugy jumped well throughout, putting in some encouraging spectacular leaps at the end of the race. He won easily, beating Richard Lee’s Grey Gold by seven lengths despite conceding nearly a stone and a half. He also had a corn in his hoof and was sporting special-needs footwear.
Sire De Grugy is reported to have come out of the run well, merely being a bit stiff behind which is apparently normal for him. The corn has since been cut out. Will he feel it? Who knows.
The seven-year-old Dodging Bullets (6/1) has looked progressive this season and is now rated only 1lb lower than Sire De Grugy. He could well be a beneficiary if the market leaders are not 100% on the day. Nicholls knows he is no superstar and that he has to be at his very best and ‘mega-fit’ to win big races.
Unfortunately for Nicholls he’s a buzzy stress-head and not the easiest to train. His workload at home was increased after he was beaten a head into third by Nicky Richards’ second-placed Simply Ned (16/1) on the line on his seasonal debut in the Shloer Chase here in November (a race won by Uxizandre). It seems to have done the trick, along with the use of a tongue-tie.
Dodging Bullets has won both his Grade 1 starts since, beating Somersby by two and a half lengths in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December before getting the better of Sprinter Sacre last time out.
This race has been his target since the Tingle Creek and, whilst his last two victories have been on soft, better ground will not inconvenience him. Course form really counts at Prestbury Park and he has three wins under his belt on faster ground here. Expect a party atmosphere if his breeder, Frankie Dettori is able to attend. This flat-bred son of Dubawi looks a very decent accidental chaser with strong claims.
Nicholls’ other runner, the seven-year-old Mr Mole (9/1) is also worth a look. Like his stablemate, he is progressive. He has a reputation for being quirky and missed the start last time out but still managed to win the Game Spirit by 13 lengths, after Sire De Grugy had parted company with Moore. He has won his three starts this season, beating Venetia Williams’ Brick Red twice in lesser contests.
Mr Mole is now rated only 6lb below his more fancied stablemate but, unlike Dodging Bullets, his course form is unimpressive. He fell when beaten at the Festival last year and started as the joint favourite but was narrowly beaten into third here in a handicap hurdle for amateur riders in April 2013. It would not be a surprise to see him put up a good performance for his owner, JP McManus and jockey, AP McCoy, but he is difficult to support with any confidence.
A more fancied contender is Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old Champagne Fever (5/1). He is rated 162, 10lb below Sire De Grugy but his course form is impressive and having Ruby Walsh on board is certainly no hindrance to his chances. At the Festival two years ago he beat the very useful My Tent Or Yours by half a length to take the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Last year he was unlucky to be outdone by the shortest of distances in the Arkle by David Pipe’s Western Warhorse on good to soft.
This season he has won two of his four starts. He kicked off his campaign as a winning odds-on favourite in a Grade 2 contest at Clonmel in November on heavy. He succeeded easily by six lengths, beating Mark Walsh’s Alderwood.
We next saw him in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, not quite getting the three miles and finishing 10 lengths behind Nicholls’ Gold Cup hope, Silviniaco Conti, in fourth. Next time he fell when looking beaten in a four runner, two and a half mile Grade 2 chase at Thurles in mid January. We last saw him a month ago, winning a Grade 2 chase at Gowran Park in style over two and a half miles.
This eight-year-old, owned by Ricci Rich’s wife, is definitely a player. He has speed, stamina, a very good jockey and is a proven performer in the Festival hubbub.
The only other horses rated above 160 are Mick Channon’s declining 11-year-old, Somersby (40/1), and Henry De Bromhead’s Sizing Europe who shares a rating of 165 with Mr Mole. Now 13-years-old, the immensely likeable Sizing Europe may pick up a bit of place money but that looks to be the best he can hope for. The same sentiment applies to Somersby.
Queen Mother Champion Chase Betting Tips Conclusion
Sprinter Sacre (5/2) is the classiest act in the line up but his heart problem combined with that small bleed make him a no go area at his current price. Sire De Grugy (3/1) is a more tempting prospect after his latest run but despite last years’ win in this, this track does not play to his strengths. Now he has foot problems to overcome too. That leaves the ‘best of the rest’ which means Champagne Fever or Dodging Bullets at around 5/1.
- Dodging Bullets seems the better jumper of the two and should enjoy decent ground. He’s also won two Grade 1s whilst Champagne Fever only has Grade 2s to his name this season. Paul Nicholls is a genius when it comes to preparing a horse for a specific target and this race is exactly that. Our Champion Chase betting tip has to be DODGING BULLETS each-way, best priced at 13/2 with Bet365.